UK: Asylum statistics - targets met but at what cost?

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

'The cost of meeting Blair and Blunkett's asylum targets is being met by people fleeing torture, rape and murder in their home countries.

'To meet these targets and satisfy domestic political concerns, this government has made it much harder for people escaping oppression to apply for asylum. Visa requirements make it almost impossible to legally enter the UK from most refugee-producing countries. Appeal rights have already been reduced for some countries and today's Bill looks likely to cut them even further.

'Every year Amnesty documents thousands of horrific human rights abuses around the world. It's not difficult to see why people flee countries like Somalia, where civilians are being killed in battles between rival warlords or raped and kidnapped by militias.

'Britain has a responsibility to offer protection to refugees. It is tragic that this is being eroded for short-term political gain.'

Amnesty International criticised proposals in the Queen's speech to limit appeals against asylum decisions despite the fact that initial decision-making is faulty - with at least one in five first-stage decisions presently reversed on appeal. Last year alone nearly 14,000 wrong initial decisions were overturned on appeal. This quarter, another 4,270 wrong initial decisions were overturned on appeal.

Additional plans to limit legal aid in asylum cases - or even, according to some reports, to abolish it entirely ? could mean that asylum-seekers are forced to make often complex asylum applications without expert advice.

Home Office figures show that the countries producing most asylum seekers for the quarter were Somalia, China, Iran and Zimbabwe. Amnesty International's 2003 Annual Report documents widespread human rights abuses in all four countries, including torture and execution.

In Somalia, for example, hundreds have been killed in factional fighting between warlords after the collapse of the rule of law. Civilians have been kidnapped and raped by militias in the capital, Mogadishu.

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