Phil Woolas Accuses Asylum Seeker Lawyers And Charities Of ‘Playing The System’

Phil Woolas accuses asylum seeker lawyers and charities of 'playing the system'

Phil Woolas, the immigration minister, has accused lawyers and charities who represent asylum seekers of undermining the law and “playing the system”.

By Graham Tibbetts
Last Updated: 1:49PM GMT 18 Nov 2008

He claimed they were part of “an industry” and said most asylum seekers were economic migrants rather than refugees fleeing persecution.

“The system is played by migration lawyers and NGOs to the nth degree,” said Mr Woolas.

“By giving false hope and by undermining the legal system, (they) actually cause more harm than they do good.”

It is the latest in a series of controversial remarks by Woolas since he was appointed by Gordon Brown in the October reshuffle.

He was hit in the face by a custard pie shortly after suggesting curbs on the number of immigrants.

Mr Woolas said he had been compared to Enoch Powell, a suggestion he rejected.

“Enoch Powell was trying to divide this country. I'm trying to heal this country by allowing us to have a mature debate on immigration,” he said in an interview with The Guardian.

The minister cited a case where an asylum seeker had won the right to stay after going through six layers of appeal.

“That person has no right to be in this country but I'm sure that there is an industry out there [with] a vested interest,” he said.

Recalling the case of a woman who visited him at his constituency office in Oldham, he said: “One lady showed me the scars on her thighs from where the soldiers had raped her, so I know, but I cannot take a decision on that lady's behalf if I am fogged by cases that are misusing the law.”

Immigration lawyers described Mr Woolas's comments as “absolutely extraordinary”.

Sophie Brown, chair of the Immigration Law Practitioners Association (Ilpa), said: “Lawyers can only work with the law. To say they are undermining the law is an extraordinary comment to make.”