Fast-track system for asylum-seekers leads to race attacks, police tell Reid
Ben Leapman, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 12:24am GMT 11/03/2007
A scheme intended to speed up the asylum system is putting extra pressure on police, colleges and housing providers, the Home Office has been told.
Police say that a decision to process asylum-seekers with the weakest claims at a single immigration office has fuelled racial tension and encouraged crime.
John Reid, the Home Secretary, will tomorrow announce the New Asylum Model, an initiative to accelerate the processing of cases.
Under the new regime, the 60,000 people a year who apply for asylum in Britain will be allocated to different “segments”, depending on the strength of their case.
Claimants assessed as “late and opportunistic”, with little chance of being granted asylum, will be “fast-tracked”, either in a detention centre or at an immigration office in Liverpool.
Pilot schemes for the “fast-track” process began last year. The move to process “late and opportunistic” claims at Reliance House, a Home Office building in Liverpool, first revealed by this newspaper, has led to men who turn up after 1pm being told that they cannot be seen or granted emergency shelter until the following day. As a result, according to Merseyside Police, many spend their first night in the city sleeping on the streets or in police station waiting rooms.
Officers believe that the situation has led to race-hate attacks by local people and petty theft by desperate asylum-seekers.
Chief Insp Zbigniew Smolen, the asylum-seeker and migrant worker co-ordinator for Merseyside Police, said: “The message it gives to people in Liverpool who may carry out hate crime is that all these asylum seekers are opportunistic. To them, it's a tenuous justification to victimise them.”
At a conference organised by the Refugee Council last week, he told Lin Homer, director-general of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate: “If you are from a visible ethnic minority, you can't speak English and you have no money, you are certainly vulnerable in the centre of Liverpool.”
Asylum-seekers whose claims are fast-tracked are thought more likely to “disappear” and go to ground, fearing imminent deportation.
However, civic leaders in Liverpool have not objected to the decision to house late and opportunistic claimants in their city, because they expect those who go on the run to return to cities where they have links, such as Manchester or London.
Rena Mann, the co-ordinator of the Inter Agency Partnership, an organisation which helps refugees, claimed that the fast-tracking system “prejudices the process, resulting in poor initial decisions”.
Refugee organisations also claim that the fast-track process is forcing hard-pressed staff to spend longer helping asylum-seekers. Refugees can apply for council housing and language courses when they have been in the country for only a few weeks, often when they have no savings and little idea how public services work.
Miss Mann said: “This is placing greater pressure on mainstream services to support people who have very few life skills, in particular in relation to English language proficiency.”
Miss Homer said that the new system would mean better-trained, specialised staff at the Immigration and Nationality Directorate taking responsibility for processing asylum claims.
Pointing out that 70 per cent of claims turn out to be unfounded, she said: “That's an area that the public expects us to bear down on swiftly and properly.”
Britain offers the most generous inducements of any European country to failed asylum-seekers who agree to return to their homeland, the Home Office said last week.
Those going home in April or May will be given 500 in cash plus 3,000 to buy property or start a business.