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LGA RESPONDS TO GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCEMENT ON ASYLUM SEEKERS

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Local Government Association leaders today responded to the government's changes to the way in which applications f...
Local Government Association leaders today responded to the government's changes to the way in which applications for asylum are processed*.

Currently, local authorities are being left to deal with the long-term consequences of the failings of the present system, and the LGA is pleased that the government will be introducing substantial improvements to that system in advance of the proposed new system of induction, accommodation and removal centres.

The LGA will explore carefully with the home office how the new centres will work and the role envisaged for local authorities; it is important that the proposed reception and accommodation centres do not create dependency or isolate asylum seekers from local communities.

The LGA has opposed the introduction of the voucher scheme for asylum seekers from the outset, and welcomes the government's decision to supersede vouchers by early autumn of next year and to increase the cash allowance from£10 to£14 per week.

Dispersing asylum seekers is necessary because of the need to alleviate the pressure of new arrivals on local authorities in London and the South-East. The LGA looks forward to working with The National Asylum Support Service to ensure speedy implementation of the government's recommendations for a more devolved and decentralised dispersal process.

In particular, local authorities should be better consulted on the location and suitability of proposed sites to accommodate dispersed asylum seekers. This will allow local authorities to prepare their local communities to receive asylum seekers, address community safety and integration issues, and plan for extra education and social services needs.

LGA chair Jeremy Beecham said: 'The LGA wants to see an asylum system that we can all be proud of. A system that respects asylum seekers' human rights and actively assists rather than hinders refugee integration.

'We are appalled by the human cost of people trafficking and it is absolutely right to introduce tough penalties for those who ply this evil trade. But the best answer is a realistic immigration policy. This would also help to relieve the pressure that economic migrants put on the asylum system.

'Local authorities are at the forefront of implementing community safety programmes to support asylum seekers and combat racism. It is important that they are consulted at every stage of the process.

'The home secretary's new asylum system will clearly take quite some time to put in place, so in the meantime every effort should be made to ensure that the present system works a lot better.'

* for full details of the government's announcement see LGCnet.

NOTES

1. Despite current legislation that the responsibility for looking after asylum seekers should be transferred from local authorities to the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) by April of next year, local authorities still support very large numbers of asylum seekers.

2. Local authorities supported about 85,000 asylum seekers in 2000/01. Three quarters of that number are in London and Kent. The total cost amounted to almost£1/2bn.

3. Local authorities are were responsible for about 6,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children at the cost of£93m in 2000/01. Over 80% of these are in London and Kent.

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