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Asylum workers criticize the Immigration minister

Mr Woolas should investigate his own government’s bias against asylum seeker, say Ekklesia 19 November 2008. Immigration Minister Phil Woolas should be publicly investigating his own government’s bias against asylum seekers rather than attacking charities, human rights groups and lawyers for giving vulnerable people support, says the religion and society think tank Ekklesia.

In an interview with the Guardian, Mr. Woolas attacked lawyers and charities working on behalf of asylum seekers, accusing them of undermining the law and "playing the system". He described the legal professionals and NGO workers as "an industry", and said most asylum seekers were not fleeing persecution but were economic migrants.

Simon Barrow, co-director of Ekklesia said: "It is utterly astonishing that a senior government minister should dismiss a court decision in this way, blame lawyers and others who give vulnerable people access to justice, and try to say that there is something wrong in appealing against the state’s attempts to kick you out of the country. People win appeals because the system has failed them. Many more would do so if it was fair, according to those at the cutting edge."

"Governments attack human rights workers when they have something to hide. The UK authorities have been rightly criticised for dawn raids, removal of children and other abuses of justice in relation to people seeking asylum – even refusing to accept accept the legitimacy of their own numerous legal defeats. It is this that needs public investigation", commented the co-director Barrow.

Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the appeals process was a vital safety net for asylum seekers who are "criminalised" on arriving in Britain. "Having your asylum claim rejected does not make you an economic migrant. For some nationalities, such as Eritreans and Somalis, almost half of refused asylum seekers have their cases upheld on appeal. These are people who would be in danger of persecution such as murder, torture or rape if sent back to the repressive regimes they are fleeing."

Vaughan Jones, director of the agency Praxis, which works with displaced people across London, who is also a United Reformed Church minister, described the statement from the new Immigration Minister as "a disturbing development."

Paul Marsh, President of the Law Society, said: "The issue of immigration is one for the politicians to debate, but central to that debate must be the fact that those seeking asylum can do so in a legal system that operates under the rule of law. He continued: "There is no reason why anyone should be denied access to justice on the basis that they are from another country and seeking asylum, which is what the minister seems to suggest."
"When the Appeal Court has determined that an asylum seeker has a right to remain in this country, it is unacceptable for a Government minister to proclaim through the media that they have no such right."

Gulay Mehmet, chair of the Law Society’s Immigration Law Committee, added: "For the minister to imply there is an asylum ‘industry’ demonstrates a lack of understanding of the difficult and demanding nature of practicing in this area of law, which often involves representing vulnerable clients who have been subjected to abuse and ill treatment by oppressive regimes."

Churches in Britain and Ireland have been outspoken in their support for asylum seekers, guest workers and other migrants who are being increasingly victimised by hysterical coverage in the tabloid press and what campaigners describe as "panic, over-reaction and systemic policy failure" within government.

The Immigration Minister became controversial after latter last month he appealed for a cap on immigration. As aresult, he was hit by a custard pie in the face.

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