Britain tightens down on bogus asylum claims

  • 2000-04-06
  • By Peter J. Mladineo
VILNIUS – The British government this week announced changes in its immigration laws to try to stem the flow of asylum seekers into the United Kingdom.

The new act especially pertains to Lithuania, which the British officials said has had a considerably high rate of asylum seekers in the United Kingdom.

"Over 2,000 Lithuanian citizens have applied during this period for political asylum in the United Kingdom. Not one of these people has actually got asylum," said British Ambassador Christopher Robbins at an April 4 press conference.

"They have, in abusing our system, brought their own country into disrepute and they have harmed the cause of genuine asylum seekers and they have cost the British and the Lithuanian government considerable sums of money," Robbins added.

While Lithuania is by no means a leader of illegals in Britain, Robbins did stress the need for the country to curb its percentage of asylum seekers in Britain.

"The proportion of international claims for asylum has been very high in relation to the population of this country," he said.

Robbins pointed to three factors causing bogus Lithuanian asylum claims: Applicants for asylum in Britain are allowed to move freely while their claims are being processed, applicants were allowed to receive benefits, including cash, social security and housing allowances, and third, the claims took several months to be processed.

Asylum seekers not held in detention will be given accommodation on a "no-choice" basis and sent to various areas across the UK.

"Essential living needs will be provided in kind, normally by the payment of vouchers, not as cash," Tarry added.

There are some special provisions for Lithuanian asylum seekers. Those who land at Dover, Gatwick and Heathrow airports will now be sent to an asylum center at Oakington Barracks in Cambridgeshire, where they will be detained until their case is heard, Tarry explained. "This new camp will allow the immigration authorities to deal very quickly with straightforward cases. Our previous history has shown that Lithuanian citizens applying for political asylum normally fall into this fast-track, straightforward system. Those people with unfounded claims will be sent home almost immediately."

Reading in between the lines, this statement probably speaks for most Lithuanian asylum seekers.

"This scheme," said Tarry, "is intended to fully meet the United Kingdom's international obligations in relation to those who are genuinely fleeing persecution, while at the same time deterring those who seek to evade immigration control by abusing the asylum process. This scheme is especially relevant to Lithuania."

There will also be heavy fines imposed on owners and drivers of vehicles who help to smuggle people into the United Kingdom. If a driver or owner is caught people smuggling, a penalty of 2,000 pounds must be paid for each person caught coming into the country.

"Although primarily aimed at lorries, this act covers all vehicles," said Tarry. "The penalty will be payable unless the operator can show that effective checks were made. All this is to encourage owners and drivers of lorries to tighten their security."

Britain and Lithuania first became aware of the high proportion of Lithuanian asylum seekers in Britain two years ago. A crackdown by the Lithuanian government ensued, and it worked. British officials reported that figures were falling throughout last year although this year they are on the rise again.

"In the first two months of this year there have been over 60 Lithuanian asylum seekers in the United Kingdom," said Tarry. "We are extremely grateful to the Lithuanian government for all the efforts they have put into deterring bogus asylum seekers. And it was their crackdown that started at the end of 1998 continuing through 1999 of all the criminal elements involved with people trafficking that helped halve the numbers."

The number of illegals living in Britain who are not claiming asylum, the British officials admitted, is unknown.

Estimates have it that the number of asylum seekers is minute compared to the number of Lithuanian illegals living out of the scope of British authorities.

Fortunately for Lithuania, Lithuanians in Britain lack the thug-like international reputations of other Eastern and Central European countries. "All countries have criminals. There are British criminals, I'm afraid to say, and there are Lithuanian ones," said Robbins. "But we don't regard Lithuania as a major source of criminality in Britain. It ís not at the top of our worry list."