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ASYLUM SEEKERS CAN CHALLENGE SUPPORT BAN

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Asylum seekers from the new EU countries in eastern Europe have won permission ...
Asylum seekers from the new EU countries in eastern Europe have won permission

to bring a high court challenge against the government's decision to

block state benefits, including housing support.

Granting permission yesterday, Mr Justice Collins, said: 'The way it has been done is arguably unfair'.

The government's decision to block state support for asylum seekers from

eastern European countries which joined the EU at the weekend was attacked

as unlawful in two test cases.

Hundreds already in the UK face loss of accommodation and subsistence

following their change of status to EU citizens on 1 May.

They were previously prevented from working and supporting themselves while their asylum claims and linked human rights appeals were under

consideration.

Now, as EU citizens, they must support themselves - but their lawyers say

they have been given insufficient time to make the change from welfare to

work because of new regulations introduced to clamp down on 'benefits

tourism' from the new EU countries.

Granting permission for the legal challenge to go ahead, the judge

emphasised that whether the decision was actually unfair and unlawful would have to be determined at a full hearing.

But during Tuesday's application he strongly criticised the government for not giving the asylum seekers - many of whom have remained in the UK after their initial claims failed - sufficient time to make the transition from state benefits to work.

He said: 'Someone seems to have overlooked until rather the last minute the status of these 2,500 or so, some of whom have remained here for over seven years.'

Among the EU accession countries are the Czech Republic, Estonia,

Latvia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Stephen Knafler, appearing for a Roma asylum seeker from Slovakia who has

lived in the UK for seven years, argued that they had been hit by 'the sting in the tail' of the regulations aimed at deterri ng 'benefit tourists' from eastern European countries.

Mr Knafler said Mr H, who cannot be identified, and others like him, were

not 'bogus asylum seekers' or benefit tourists, even though initial claims

for asylum might have been been rejected.

Problems had arisen because they had only been given a few weeks from early April to find work as EU citizens and alternative accommodation.

Mr Knafler said: 'The complete absence of transitional protection in the

scheme as a whole renders it unfair.'

The judge said he believed Mr Knafler had an arguable case, but added: 'I

don't say that necessarily in the end it will succeed, but I think the

manner in which this has been put into effect has not properly considered

the situation of these people.'

The judge gave as his reasons 'the apparent length of time many of them have been here, the fact that they have families, the fact that they are required within a very short period to find work when most have not been able to work beforehand'.

The judge added that it had 'all been doneat a terrific gallop' and he did not think the National Asylum Support Service (Nass) had had a proper

opportunity to investigate the situation.

During the hearing, Nigel Giffin QC, appearing for the government, had

argued that judicial review was not appropriate and the situation could be

dealt with through the Nass appeals mechanism.

The judge said the difficulty was that Mr H and others like him had only

been given three weeks to find work but it was now argued it was too late to bring a high court challenge.

The judge said: 'You say that, because you have left it to the last moment, nothing can be done, subject to the (human rights) convention.

'That is a recipe for bad administration: Leave to the last moment - don't

do what you should have done earlier. Then you get away with it. That

doesn't sound very attractive.

'That is the problem I am faced with. I think all the evidence poin ts one

way as to whether it was reasonable to expect them suddenly to find work

when they had not been able to work.'

Turning to the question of whether the cases should be referred to Nass, the judge suggested that would only mean the cases coming back to the High Court for judicial review applications at a later date.

The judge said it would be 'the same nonsense - spending vast sums of public money - people coming to court rather than sorting this out in a sensible fashion, having regard to the small number of people involved.'

He asked: 'What does this government want? Does it want money spent in this way?'

In a second case Manjit Gill QC, appearing for Mr D, a 38-year-old Latvian

national who claimed asylum in May 2002, was refused permission to launch a broader-based attack on the legality of the government's policy.

But the judge said Mr D could join Mr H's attack on the procedural fairness issue.

Mr D, who is living with his family in the Nottingham area, had his asylum

claim rejected in June 2002, and his appeal against that decision was

dismissed by a special adjudicator the following September.

He is now applying for special permission to remain in the UK while his sick child receives medical treatment.

Mr Gill said he was presently unemployed but wished to seek work as soon as possible.

During the hearing, Mr Knafler had suggested that all should continue to

receive support for a three-month period from May 1 while they made

alternative arrangements to find jobs.

Mr Knafler had told the judge that 2,614 applicants who came to the UK as

asylum seekers had been put in a Catch-22 situation by the government which was 'practically impossible to get out of'.

As a result of 10 new countries joining the EU, they were warned in early

April that from May 1 they would have to support themselves, or seek help

from friends or relatives, or leave the country.

Mr H, a trained bricklayer with a wife and three children, was pursuing a

legitimate human rights claim that his children, who had grown up and been

educated in the UK over the past seven years, had a right to remain and it

would be a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights to remove them.

Some 1,131 of the asylum seekers affected are being supplied with

accommodation and the basics of life by the government through the National Asylum Support Service (NASS), while local housing authorities around the country are providing interim support for a further 1,483.

Mr Knafler said: 'All those affected have in common that they want to work

and be self-supporting; they want to contribute to the UK economy; they want to help themselves by getting themselves off NASS, with its subsistence level of support and very basic accommodation.'

For instance, H was a qualified bricklayer and wanted to work as such, but

he was prepared to take on any labouring job he could get because he wanted to get his family off NASS support.

It was not until 5 April that NASS wrote to the asylum-seekers, effectively telling them: 'Support yourselves by work or leave the country because we are terminating your support from 30 April.'

This left people in an 'impossible position', he said. Expecting people to

find jobs and be 'work ready' by 4 May - the day after a bank holiday - was totally impracticable.

The judge urged that the asylum seekers should continue to receive state

support pending the full hearing of their legal challenge, provided they

followed the correct steps and actively sought work in the mean time.

Adam Sampson, director of homelessness charity, Shelter, said:

'It is unacceptable for anyone to be forced into destitution and

homelessness under these circumstances. We hope that this judgment will

now make the government provide proper transitional arrangements that

allow people a realistic opportunity to find work - and we know that the

vast majority of these asylum see kers do want to work - without being

threatened with homelessness.'

STRAND NEWS SERVICE

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