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September 1999, Volume 6, Number 9

UK: Asylum Record

A record 6,600 foreigners applied for asylum in the UK in July 1999, up from 6,230 in June 1999. In July 1999, there were 1,050 asylum applications from Kosovars and 675 from Somalis. In 1998, 46,000 foreigners applied for asylum--80,000 applications are expected in 1999. In 1998, Germany received 130,000 asylum applications; the Netherlands, 42,000; France, 22,000; Spain, 10,000; and Italy, 8,000.

About 39 percent of the applications considered in July 1999 resulted in grants of asylum, one of the highest acceptance rates in Europe. Applicants try to stretch out the process. There is a backlog of 82,195 applications. Of those whose applications have been pending four years or more, 88 percent were given "exceptional leave to remain" in the UK.

The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, drafted emergency legislation that would permit him to set quotas on the number of asylum seekers to be housed in each local authority and to send asylum seekers to particular locations throughout the UK. The UK government expects to have a new Asylum and Immigration Act passed in November, 1999 to go into effect April 1, 2000, but with the emergency provisions going into effect immediately.

Under the proposed law, asylum applicants will get 70 percent of income support, currently L40.70 a week, in vouchers that can be exchanged for food and clothing, with L10 a week in cash. Housing will be provided if applicants report to the place they are assigned, but not otherwise. The proposed law will also permit the UK to fine truck drivers and the Eurostar train from Paris if illegal immigrants are caught on entering trucks and trains.

Under current law, foreigners who apply for asylum upon entry receive 90 percent of income support (in vouchers), housing benefit, free NHS health treatment, subsidized dental and eye care and legal aid. Foreigners who apply for asylum after entry get less support under the 1948 National Assistance Act, which requires local governments to house them and provide food and clothing, either through cash or vouchers; applicants also receive free health care.

Most asylum applicants are housed in the southeast and in London. There are about 5,000 asylum seekers living in the county of Kent; clashes between residents and asylum seekers are reportedly on the increase. In mid-August, there was a clash between residents and asylum seekers in Dover, a city of 41,000 with 800 asylum seekers so far in 1999. Immigration inspectors using dogs have found 1,000 foreigners hidden in the back of trucks arriving there.

The UK's Immigration and Nationality Directorate released a plan in August 1999 to disperse asylum seekers throughout the country and advertised for low-cost accommodation in off-season holiday areas. One critic of the plan to disperse asylum seekers around the country said that hotel owners would have to make an all or nothing decision: "If you are using a hotel to house asylum-seekers you cannot use it to attract tourists." According to the Health of Londoners Project, about 100,000 rejected asylum seekers are living in the UK; it estimated that 75 percent of those whose applications are rejected stay in the UK.

The UK government has complained that France was encouraging illegal immigration to Britain by refusing to check the documentation of travelers bound for London on the Eurostar train. In mid-August, France inspected 244 persons headed for London on the train and detained 100 on suspicion of attempting to illegally enter the UK; some drivers reportedly accept $1000 to permit migrants to hide in their trucks and cars.

In August 1999, British police and immigration officials inspected farm workers in Hampshire and West Sussex and detained 19 East Europeans.

In addition to the asylum influx, the UK government faces a massive backlog in its passport and visa office, the result of a failed automation project. Applicants for visa renewals must send their passports to the Home Office, which then holds them for months. During that time, foreigners living in the UK, including professionals and executives, cannot travel outside the country. Northern Ireland. Migrants are returning to Northern Ireland, reversing migration patterns that led to net emigration of 17,000 in the 1970s and 8,000 in the 1980s; Northern Ireland's population is projected to increase through 2011. Many residents lack education and skills: 26 percent of the working age population have no "qualifications," compared with 18 percent for the UK as a whole. Unemployment is 7.2 percent; almost 20 percent of Northern Ireland's unemployed have been without work for more than five years, compared with seven percent in the whole UK.

Richard Ford, "Applicants for asylum top record levels," The Times, August 26, 1999. Simon Brisco, "Home Office acts on backlog of visas for foreigners in UK, Financial Times, August 25, 1999. John Lichfield, "France Rounds up Migrant Traffickers," Independent, August 19, 1999. "France detains 210 illegal immigrants en route to Britain," Agence France Presse, August 18, 1999. Richard Ford, "Toughest benefit change as entries head for record," Times, August 24, 1999. John Murray Brown, "N. Ireland prepares for brain gain as lost children return home," Financial Times, August 19, 1999.