Coming to the United Kingdom as an asylum-seeker is bad for your health, a senior member of the British Medical Association who works among immigrants in east London, said yesterday.
Dr Kate Adams said she and her colleagues at Homerton Hospital had been baffled by the fact that an 18-month-old Kosovan boy was unable to crawl. They could find no evidence of cerebral palsy or any other diseases that could explain his incapacity.
Then they found that the child and his parents were living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation in one room virtually filled by a double bed. Dr Adams said: "We found he had no space to crawl. It breaks your heart, particularly when you are dealing with children.''
Dr Adams, of the association's international committee, said she found some mothers had so little money they were forced to water down their babies' milk.
Speaking ahead of the Labour party conference in Brighton, Dr Adams said the policies pursued by the Government – under which refugees are dispersed across Britain – meant that many children were never in one place long enough to be immunised. "That could cause major health problems for the rest of the community," she said.
The association "deplored'' the detention, dispersal and voucher policies. "They were designed to be punitive, not compassionate,'' Dr Adams said. She called for an immediate restoration of cash benefits for immigrants. Asylum-seekers were forced to go to supermarkets designated for the use of vouchers rather than local shops, which inevitably contributed to stress. "The system is demeaning and stigmatising,'' she said.
"We find that people's health deteriorates when they come to the United Kingdom as an asylum-seeker,'' she told a press conference called by the Transport & General Workers' Union.
Bill Morris, the union's general secretary, said there was now a strong coalition against vouchers, which also included major charities such as Oxfam. He said: "We can't reform the system. It's immoral and it has to go. We have no brief for people who are here illegally. The Government has the right to decide who can stay and how long they can stay, but people who are here have to be treated with decency and humanity.''
Mr Morris warned against infringing civil liberties as a "knee-jerk'' reaction to the atrocities in the United States.
The Government is due to publish the findings of a review of the asylum-seekers' voucher system this week.
* Police said 26 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers who were found in the back of a van at Dover yesterday could have died if their journey had been delayed. Police said the 23 men and three women were found in "poor condition", crammed into a "medium-sized" van. The driver, a 27-year-old German woman, was being held in custody at Dover police station.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies