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UK: Asylum statistics - setting targets an 'insult' to persecuted and tortured

The new Home Office asylum statistics, showing that human rights abuses are driving asylum claims from countries like Somalia and Zimbabwe, also show a significant drop in applications compared with earlier periods. It is widely expected that the UK government will see the fall as 'evidence' of the government getting the asylum 'problem' under control.

Amnesty International, which has been highly critical of the government's recent prioritisation on reducing asylum applications, has also condemned a series of recent punitive and unfair asylum measures that have weakened fundamental human rights protections for asylum-seekers in the UK.

These have included more obstacles to prevent arrival, eextensions to the 'white list' of so-called 'safe' countries - with the removal of effective appeal rights, a highly controversial removal of support for some claimants, plans to open large-scale 'accommodation centres' in inappropriate locations, and plans to severely limit the provision of legal aid in asylum cases.

Amnesty International UK Refugee Affairs Programme Director Jan Shaw said:

'Tony Blair's personal obsession with asylum 'number-crunching' is an absolute insult to those who have sought protection from persecution, torture and even possible death.

'To imagine that you can set targets for 'acceptable' numbers of those seeking a place of safety is an affront to those who need help as well as a none-too-subtle undermining of the principle of refugee protection.

'The real issue is not whether we can 'get the numbers down' but whether we can offer protection to the world's tortured and persecuted, and provide a fair and humane means to assess claims in the process.

'The government has introduced measures making life more difficult for asylum-seekers and then talked about getting asylum 'under control.' It is time for the government to re-focus on the causes of asylum - political persecution, conflict and unregulated arms flows in places like Iran, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Somalia and Iraq.'

Amnesty International has recently urged the government to abandon a proposal to drastically cut back on legal aid for asylum cases. The government has recently highlighted 'savings' to be made in legal aid costs due to reductions in the number of asylum-seekers and Amnesty International is concerned that the government is apparently prioritising costs over protection.

Jan Shaw added:

'If the government proceeds with a policy of 'numbers and savings' and not humanity in the face of persecution, we fail vulnerable people in need of our help.'

Amnesty International also warned against any early implementation of forced returns of unsuccessful asylum applicants to Iraq, as well as other highly dangerous 'post-conflict' countries like Afghanistan.

Relevant information

UK: Asylum - Figures show Iraqis need protection and systems needs support, not undermining - press release, 28 February 2003:

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