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Sunday, May 16, 1999 Published at 11:08 GMT 12:08 UK


Refugees 'not swamping' immigration

A Kosovo Albanian child in temporary housing in Scotland

Union claims that the immigration service is "close to collapse" because of the Kosovo crisis have been denied by the government.

Kosovo: Special Report
The Home Office said extra staff had been drafted in to the Immigration and Nationality Department, and that more would be brought in to help process claims.

But the Public and Commercial Services Union said a "massive backlog" of immigration and asylum applications had been caused by delays in installing a new computer system.

Staff shortages and office relocations had also contributed to the problem, it said.

[ image: Refugees are still arriving in Macedonia from Kosovo]
Refugees are still arriving in Macedonia from Kosovo
General Secretary Barry Reamsbottom said targets for dealing with applications within six months would not be met without substantial investment in permanent staff. The union said the department's Croydon headquarters in south London had had huge queues of applicants.

But the Home Office said that everyone who turned up was seen on the same day. A spokeswoman said the situation was in hand, and added: "Recovery measures have been put in place and the situation is beginning to improve."

  • As a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, the UK must consider all the applications for asylum it receives

  • Asylum is granted to those with a "well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality or membership of a particular social group"

  • In May last year it was calculated that there were 50,000 undecided asylum applications, plus another 20,000 awaiting appeals

  • An asylum applicant who is rejected can appeal to a legally qualified special adjudicator. That person's decision can be appealed to the Immigration Appeals Tribunal

  • Most asylum-seekers head for London, which last year housed an estimated 40,000 people, including 1,200 unaccompanied children, at an estimated weekly cost of £546,000

Latest estimates from United Nations High Commissioner (UNHCR) for Refugees put the number of people displaced from Kosovo at more than 748,000 since Nato bombing started on 24 March.

The UK, which has been criticised for its hesitation in taking in refugees, has now offered to take up to 1,000 refugees a week under the UNHCR evacuation programme.

Manchester welcomed about 150 refugees last week, and Scotland housed 300 Kosovo Albanians on 9 May.

The Northern Ireland Office has also said the province would host an unspecified number of refugees identified as priority cases by the UNHCR.

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