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LETTERS: No fears for 'real' refugees

From Ms Ann Widdecombe

Sir: Peter Popham ("Sorry, Britain is now closed", 12 December) misunderstands the intention and the effect of the Asylum and Immigration Bill. There is no question that Britain is now closed to refugees. The UK will continue to honour its obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Last year, the Home Office granted asylum to 825 applicants. On top of that, 3,360 applicants who did not qualify under the convention were granted exceptional leave for humanitarian reasons. Absolutely nothing in the Bill will change the substantive criteria for making asylum and exceptional leave grants.

Mr Popham complains about the delays. The fact is that the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 enabled the average decision time in new cases to be reduced from more than 18 months to four months. But that significant improvement has subsequently been eroded by the massive rise in asylum applications. There were 22,400 in 1993, 32,800 in 1994, and a projected 45,000 this year.

I cannot comment on the individual case highlighted in the article. But it is certainly true that no one suffers more from this massive overloading of the asylum procedures than genuine refugees.

The Bill and accompanying administrative measures aim to tackle this problem comprehensively, fairly and in a way that is fully compatible with our obligations under the convention. Genuine refugees have nothing to fear from our proposals.

Yours faithfully,

Ann Widdecombe

Minister of State

Home Office

London, SW1

12 December