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|Asylum Seekers' Benefit Case Threatens Migrants Crackdown|
Chief Political Correspondent (The Financial Times)
August 1 2003 5:00
David Blunkett was dealt a fresh blow in his battle to stem the tide of asylum seekers yesterday after a High Court ruling that denying migrants benefits could breach their human rights.
New legislation prevents refugees claiming state-funded food and shelter if they fail to apply for asylum immediately after their arrival in Britain.
But although the High Court defended that principle in a test case with potentially far-reaching implications, it ruled that the human rights of three asylum seekers, who were forced to sleep rough and beg after being refused benefits, had been breached.
The home secretary, who will appeal against the judgment later this month, believes the tough new rules have already helped to limit the number of asylum seekers by signalling that Britain is no longer a "soft touch". Asylum applications have been cut by a third in the early part of this year, but yesterday's ruling threatens to set this back.
The judge said that the three asylum seekers - "S" from Somalia, "D" from Ethiopia, and "T" from Malaysia - had experienced "degrading treatment".
"S" claimed asylum the day after arriving, but the immigration authorities blocked his application for asylum support on the grounds that he had not made the claim soon enough.
"D" applied for asylum the day after landing at Heathrow, but was also told he had delayed too long to qualify for support. "T" was denied benefits in similar circumstances. The refugees were forced to sleep rough and beg after charitable accommodation ran out.
The High Court upheld the initial decision to refuse support in two of the three cases. That was welcomed by Beverley Hughes, immigration minister.
However, Justice Maurice Kay decided that continuing to deny the three migrants benefits was "debasing" and a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. The government is to appeal that finding.
Asylum seekers waiting for their claims to be processed risked being "reduced to astate of destitution. Without accommodation, food or the means to obtain them, [they] will have little alternative but to beg or resort to crime. Many, like the claimants in this case, will have little choice but to beg and sleep rough".
Defending the government's crackdown, Ms Hughes said: "It is entirely reasonable to expect people fleeing from persecution to claim asylum as soon as practicable if they want support."