ASYLUM: NEW BILL STILL WIDE OF THE MARK, SAY REFUGEE COUNCIL, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL AND OXFAM

Nick Hardwick, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, speaking on behalf of the three agencies, said:

'Though the Government has shown a clear intention to address issues around economic migration into the UK to meet labour shortages, there are still big gaps in this Bill in relation to asylum, which must be filled if Britain is to honour its obligation to provide safety and dignity to those forced by persecution to flee their own countries.

'This is the fourth asylum Bill in a decade and its legacy must be something more enduring than playing midwife to the next asylum Bill.'

The three agencies outlined several areas of concern:

* a failure to guarantee asylum-seekers access to legal advice despite having said in the Bill's White Paper that it is 'committed to ensuring access to quality legal advice' at all stages;

* new measures that would remove an increased number of child asylum-seekers from mainstream education provision;

* no provision of automatic bail hearings to challenge the detention of asylum-seekers, despite a commitment to allow this in the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act;

* clear concern - despite the welcome removal of vouchers - that the cash-based system perpetuates an unjust ‘poverty-level' support provision roughly 30% less than that for non-asylum-seekers;

* absence of measures to address shortcomings in the asylum application decision-making procedure.

The three agencies call on the Government to re-think the Bill's asylum measures during its passage through Parliament. In addition, all three groups advocate measures that would lead to the creation of an independent documentation centre to facilitate a more independent asylum assessment procedure.

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