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SOUTHERN COUNCILS ORDERED TO STOP SENDING REFUGEES NORTH

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The Guardian (Feb 26, p13) reported that attempts by some councils, such as Westminster LBC and Slough BC, to solve...
The Guardian (Feb 26, p13) reported that attempts by some councils, such as Westminster LBC and Slough BC, to solve their asylum problems by busing refugees across the country has prompted protests from the receiving authorities.

Northern authorities, such as Newcastle and Hull are faced with providing essential services to the asylum seekers without warning.

An official warning has been sent to southern councils by the Local

Government Association (see LGCnet 29/2/00 'LGA APPEALS FOR LOCAL AUTHORITIES TO WORK TOGETHER ON ASYLUM SEEKERS.')

John Ransford, the LGA's head of social affairs, said: 'These private

arrangements are against Local Government Association guidelines and should not be required now that we have the organised dispersal scheme which can deal with the situation in a properly co-ordinated way.'

The Daily Telegraph (Feb 26, p1) reported that council leaders called for urgent talks with home office ministers after it emerged that taxpayers face a daily bill of£2.6m for looking after asylum

seekers.

However the full cost remains unclear. Senior immigration officials believe that the real cost may be closer to£5m a day.

The costs have already forced Kent CC to raise its council tax.

Meanwhile, a report from the Sunday Telegraph (p2) that almost all the 79 remaining passengers on the hijacked Afghan plane which landed at Stansted are to be deported is today contradicted by The Independent (p1).

The Sunday paper reported that the applications for asylum were found to be bogus, and an official announcement was to be made within days.

A home office official is quoted as saying home secretary Jack Straw might be seen to be encouraging hijacking if he allowed the 79 to stay.

But the Indepdendent says that the government now accepts that the precedent set by granting of previous Afghan asylum applications means that the 79 are likely to stay, even if Mr Straw made an initial decision to remove them.

The Sunday Telegraph said ministers are convinced that some of the passengers were involved in the hijack and want a tough response to deter others. Suspicions were aroused because many passengers were carrying an unusually large amount of luggage for what was ostensibly an internal flight to a wedding.

A total of 37 men, 14 women and 28 children under 16 asked for asylum after the hijack, claiming they would face persecution if they were sent home to Afghanistan.

They are being held at an immigration detention centre near Gatwick airport. A total of 14 people have appeared in court at Southend charged with hijacking the plane.

Seventy-two other passengers have already flown back to Afghanistan.

These applications come amid growing concern bout the record backlog of asylum seekers and evidence that refugees are being organised into bands of intimidating beggars. Up to 30 people, thought to be Albanian Kosovars, ran through Woburn Sands, a Buckinghamshire village, last week, terrifying residents who locked themselves in their homes.

It seemed they had spent the night sleeping on allotments after being dropped off by a lorry. A police spokesman said the group went to the train station to return to London, having fled when an officer visited the village. Brian White, Labour MP for Milton Keynes North East, whose constituency includes the village, said he would be making urgent representations to the police area commander.

He believes the group might have been one of the organised gangs of illegal immigrants who have begun to prey on towns and villages throughout rural Britain, having identified them as a soft touch.

Mr White said: 'The situation is very concerning. First, because these groups commit a whole range of illegal activities and are frightening for residents, but also because they give a bad name to genuine asylum seekers and refugees.'

Meanwhile, Mr Straw is considering an offer from Securicor to house asylum seekers in two converted container ships on the Tyne and the Mersey, reported The Independent on Sunday (pl).

The proposal is believed to follow Securicor's activities in Germany, where one of its subcontractors keeps asylum seekers on converted ships in Hamburg. Refugee agencies there have said conditions on the vessels are 'unbearable'.

But the desperate shortage of accomodation for hopeful entrants to Britain and councils' anxiety over the rising costs of housing the new arrivals means the government is under severe pressure to come up with a solution.

Britain already has one ship converted to house prisoners. HMP Weare, which holds 400 inmates, is moored in Portland Harbour in Dorset. It was introduced by the last Conservative government in a move condemned by Labour at the time.

Britain received an estimated 71,000 asylum seekers last year, most of them concentrated in coastal towns and London. The government had hope that local authorities and private landlords would solve the crisis but, far from that happening, this has now provoked a backlash.

This week a delegation of MPs from seaside towns is expected to meet Mr Straw for crisis talks on how the influx will affect tourism.

The government had been banking on finding at least 3,000 places from the private sector in each region. But at the weekend it became clear that only a third of this target would be reached and there was speculation the government would have to delay dispersing asylum seekers around the country until after the 1 April deadline.

Richard West, a member of the north-west regional consortium of local authorities, said: 'It is outrageous to propose that we house asylum seekers on these boats, 150 years after we got rid of the hulks used to house prisoners.'

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