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February 1997, Volume 4, Number 2

UK: Asylum and Sanctions

Asylum. Since February 1996, people who fail to apply for political asylum upon their arrival in the UK are denied public housing or support and are not permitted to work for six months, causing the Red Cross to distribute relief packages in London for the first time in 50 years. One asylum-seeker entered Britain by train and could not find an immigration officer at the arrival station. Even though the asylum seeker went straight to the Home Office to apply for asylum, she was denied benefits.

The exception is asylum applicants with children, who are given housing and support regardless of when they applied for asylum.

Denying support to foreigners who apply inside the UK has reduced the number of asylum seekers by 42 per cent from 1995 to 1996. In 1995, there were 44,000 applications. About 25 percent of asylum applicants are permitted to remain in the UK.

Sixteen asylum seekers from Algeria, Somalia, Russian and Nigeria began a hunger striker on January 6 to protest being held in prison instead of a detention center while their asylum requests are processed. Some of the protesters have been held for nearly two years. The Home Office reported that 14 of the 16 protesters had exhausted the appeals procedure and were to be deported.

One hunger striker, a Nigeria pastor, was sent to a hospital on January 29 because he was close to death after fasting for three weeks. The Home Office refused to force-feed the prisoners despite the British Medical Association's condemnation of the government action. The Home Office responded that people should not be allowed to get around the law by threatening to do harm to themselves.

Church leaders and asylum advocate groups call the practice of holding asylum seekers in prison inhumane. About 180 asylum seekers are held at Rochester Prison in a separate wing from the criminals.

The Prison Service of England and Wales has decided to place immigration detainees and asylum-seekers in prison ships to ease overcrowding in jails. The asylum-seekers will be held on the prison ship Resolution, which will be anchored in Portland Harbor, Dorset.

Sanctions. The Asylum and Immigration Act 1996, which introduces employer sanctions to the UK, went into effect January 27, 1997. Employers are liable for penalties of up to L5000 ($8,000) per illegal worker hired. The Race Relations Act makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity in hiring.

Guidelines for employers are available at: http:/ - off/ind.htm

Employers are expected to ask prospective employees for a National Insurance number, UK birth certificate, a passport from a European Union state or a letter from the Home Office confirming that a person has the right to remain in the UK and is eligible for employment.

As in the US, employer sanctions apply only to newly-hired workers. Employers have an affirmative defense to the charge that they knowingly hired illegal alien workers if they show that they checked the employee's passport, certificate of registration, birth certificate, national identity card, work permit or a document which states his National Insurance number. Employers do not have to verify the authenticity of the documents presented.

On January 23, the British government rejected a proposal to extend the legal rights of foreign domestic workers brought into Britain by their employers from overseas. The Overseas Domestic Workers (Protection) Bill would lift the employment and immigration restrictions on employees who were plaintiffs or witnesses in court or tribunal proceedings.

Smugglers who sneaked 10 Turks each week from Holland to Britain for the past 12 years were arrested in January. The group had the Turks pose as members of ship's crews that traveled between Rotterdam and British ports.

"Church calls on British government to stop hunger-strikers dying," Agence France Presse, January 31, 1997. "Penalties for employing illegal immigrants come into effect today," M2 Presswire, January 28, 1997. Andrew Evans, "Minister rules out extra protection for foreign domestics," Press Association Newsfile, January 23, 1997. "Number of asylum seekers in Britain halves," January 16, 1997. Richard Ford and Ian Murray, "Asylum-seekers to be held in ship to ease jail crisis," The Times, January 13, 1997. Michael Skapinker, "Why the Red Cross has a mercy mission in London," Financial Times January 11, 1997. Sarah Helm, "Major offers to be EU's 'flexible' friend," The Independent, January 9, 1997.