Letter: Tighter net on asylum

From Ms Maria Fernandes

Sir: Nirj Deva's article (Another view: "Fair and firm on immigration", 22 November) is chilling, not only because he rejects allegations that the Government is playing the race card, but because he puts economic arguments before democratic values. His article gives us an insight into the real aim of the legislation. He says that applications have risen and that "unless something is done now" the upward trend will continue. Further on in the article he refers to the Bill being about efficiency.

Michael Howard claimed that the aim of the Bill was to deter bogus asylum- seekers and illegal immigrants. It was not about restricting numbers. Yet the Bill will prevent all asylum-seekers from making in-country applications. Seventy per cent of applications are made after entry, the majority within a week of arriving. Many do not speak the language, are suspicious of those in authority and are confused and tired, having been tortured and imprisoned abroad. With one stroke the Government treats these people as bogus applicants.

There is no doubt that this move will save a lot of money. Denying them benefits and housing will save further sums, and at the same time deter others from applying. There is increasing evidence that detention is already used as a means of deterring applications. Coupled with these further restrictions, the asylum-seeker can expect the net to close in on him.

This is the sixth Bill to be passed in the past 16 years. The last one was only two years ago, and had the same aim. It has failed to address the real problems. Speeding up applications would be far more effective in weeding out bogus applicants.

Exploiting a vulnerable group will undoubtedly make huge sums available to the public coffers. But at what cost?

Yours sincerely,

Maria Fernandes

Fernandes Vaz Solicitors

London, NW2

23 November

The writer is an executive member of the Law Society's subcommittee on immigration.