Asylum seekers to be sent to camps

by JONATHAN OLIVER, Mail on Sunday

All future asylum seekers will be detained in special camps as part of radical reforms to be unveiled tomorrow by David Blunkett.

In a major U-turn, the Home Secretary will end the policy of compulsory dispersal, which has caused civil disturbances, and scrap the food and clothing vouchers system for refugees.

Instead, asylum seekers will be accommodated in barrack-style premises set up at disused holiday centres and military camps. Within them they will be given food and other forms of support.

The hope is the system will allow refugees' applications to be processed more quickly.

There are currently 40,000 waiting for their applications to be heard. The process takes an average of seven months. Mr Blunkett hopes the new system, spread across the country, will reduce the delay to a matter of days.

He will announce the plan, first revealed by The Mail on Sunday earlier this month, in the Commons. Mr Blunkett will also dis-close details of an American-style 'green card' immigration system which would allow thousands of workers to enter the country from next year. There will be a variety of categories, ranging from highly skilled professionals to labourers, with quotas for each.

The Home Secretary is also expected to propose that immigrants be required to attend citizenship classes, based around the history and laws of the UK, and learn English.

The new reception sites will have an open-door policy in contrast to existing secure units such as Oakington in Cambridgeshire.

As long as refugees observe a curfew, they will be able to come and go as they please. Those who abuse this will forfeit the right to stay in the country.

Under the old dispersal scheme, designed to alleviate pressure on London and parts of Kent, refugees were placed in estates all over the country, often in areas

which had no previous experience of ethnic minorities.

Problems with the system were exposed when a Kurdish refugee was killed in Glasgow earlier in the year.

A Government source said: 'We recognise that the system has been failing both the refugees and British people. But we hope that these reforms will solve most of these problems.'

Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, welcomed the Government's plans.

'We have been calling for the creation of reception centres for a long time,' he said.

Mr Hughes said resources must be provided which would enable the authorities to process the refugees quickly.

'These are people who may have little English and have had a very traumatic past,' he said.

The Tories said the current system was on the verge of collapse.

Shadow Home Secretary Oliver Letwin said: 'The management of the asylum system is in a mess and is long overdue for an overhaul.

'We are glad Mr Blunkett now admits this.'