Eastern European asylum seekers face grim future when EU expands

Asylum-seekers who should have become the responsibility of the
National Asylum Support Service four years ago but remain supported
by councils could be left destitute when the European Union expands
in May.

From then, anyone from the 10 mostly east European accession
countries who had been awaiting a decision on their asylum
application will cease to be an asylum seeker. As a result,
councils will no longer be able to claim back money from the Home
Office for supporting them.

Kent social services director Peter Gilroy said his council alone
had 230 asylum-seeking adults and families who originated from the
10 accession countries who would fall into this category.

They are among nearly 3,000 asylum seekers living in the county who
are awaiting decisions on their applications but who Nass has said
it cannot take responsibility for until 2005 due to lack of

Gilroy said that, given the removal in July 2002 of the concession
allowing asylum seekers to work after six months, few would be in
employment. However, under proposals for nationals of new member
states, they would not be entitled to receive benefits

If this situation was combined with the sudden removal of support
from the council, the former asylum seekers could become homeless
and penniless overnight, he warned.

Gilroy, who is also the Association of Directors of Social
Services’ spokesperson on asylum seekers, urged the government to
look again at the problem. He said it should fund a transitionary
period during which councils could continue to claim back money for
supporting the new EU nationals while they looked for work.

He predicted that London councils would find themselves in a
similar situation and be faced with a difficult choice come May
unless changes were made.

The Home Office said it would make an announcement soon on the
package of measures to ensure the benefits system was not exploited
and would then make information available to local authorities
about the implications.

The 10 countries joining the EU are Cyprus, Latvia, Slovakia, Czech
Republic, Lithuania, Slovenia, Estonia, Malta, Hungary and

There are no central figures available for the number of asylum
seekers from the 10 countries who are currently being supported by
councils or Nass.

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