LETTER:'Misguided' Asylum Bill

From Mr Richard Dunstan

Sir: Nirj Deva, MP, is quite wrong when he states that "most [asylum] applicants arrive from the troubled countries of Eastern Europe, Romania, Russia, Poland and Yugoslavia" ("Another View; "Fair and firm on immigration", 22 November). In 1995 to date, asylum-seekers from these countries have accounted for a mere 11 per cent of all applications. Nigeria alone has accounted for a greater proportion of applicants.

More than 80 per cent of those seeking asylum in the UK are from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Currently, the principal applicant nationalities are Nigeria, India, Somalia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Algeria. That is why most, if not all, of these countries would eventually be placed on the Home Office's "white list". Because putting countries such as Romania - which accounts for less than 2 per cent of applications - on the "white list" would not make much impact on decision times and the backlog of some 85,000 cases.

But Mr Deva is right when he says that this is - or should be - a debate about "efficiency". For it is the inefficiencies of the Home Office, and its failure to make the 1993 Act work, that are the root of the wholly undesirable misuse of the asylum process. Falling productivity in the Home Office's Asylum Division, and a severe under-resourcing of the appeals mechanism created in 1993, have resulted in it taking an average of 18 months to process cases. It is these delays and backlogs that have created the incentive to make an unfounded asylum claim as a means of circumventing immigration controls.

The Asylum and Immigration Bill is misguided and unnecessary. Its implementation would result in a serious diminution of the Government's ability to meet fully its obligations under international law. What is needed is a substantial improvement in Home Office efficiency, and a proper resourcing of the procedures established by the 1993 Act.

Yours faithfully,

Richard Dunstan

Refugee Officer

Amnesty International (UK)

London, EC1