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Public is still confused over asylum seekers and migrants.

Byline: By Neil Connor Chief Reporter

Many people still do not know the difference between asylum seekers and economic migrants, according to a report launched in Birmingham yesterday.

The study was published by the Independent Asylum Commission nearly a year-and-ahalf after it began its nationwide review of the asylum process.

The group said the public needed more information about the asylum process and also highlighted an advice service being pioneered in Solihull which could be a model for others across the country.

The body, which is made up of a group of asylum experts including academics, church leaders and politicians, launched the results of the study, called Saving Sanctuary, at the Quaker Meeting House, in Bull Street. The report contains the results of a national public consultation exercise, which reveals that most people do not understand where asylum seekers come from.

At the launch, a group including asylum seekers, faith leaders and voluntary workers held a discussion on issues surrounding the asylum process.

Jonathan Cox, the co-ordinator at the commission, said: "A scheme in Solihull where asylum seekers are given early advice on their applications was one of the things that was highlighted.

"It really looks like the project is working and it has caused less problems for the applicants themselves. They are more likely to accept the ruling on not being given asylum if they have had the advice.

"Asylum seekers do get advice from voluntary groups when they come into the country.

But there is nowhere else in the system that they can get automatic advice early.

"We think this service will be rolled out across the country."

The Saving Sanctuary report reveals that local people strongly support the idea of providing sanctuary to those fleeing persecution but do not understand who asylum seekers are and confuse them with economic migrants from Eastern Europe.

In an opinion poll released alongside the report, 65 per cent of respondents were 'very' or 'quite' proud of the UK's tradition of providing sanctuary to people fleeing persecution.

People from Birmingham who participated in the study were unable to define what an asylum seeker was and thought workers from EU countries such as France and Poland were asylum seekers.

This view is underlined in an opinion poll which found that 70 per cent of people believed information they received regarding migration did not distinguish clearly enough between asylum seekers, economic migrants and other migrant groups.

The commissioners have urged key figures from politics, media and civil society to hold a 'sanctuary summit' and work out a road-map for communicating to the public.

Co-chairman of the commission and former High Court Judge Sir John Waite said: "Unless we take action to restore public support and confidence, the outlook for our tradition of providing sanctuary to those fleeing persecution is bleak.

The commissioners are also calling on politicians to ensure no child should leave school without being aware of the UK's history as a safe haven for those seeking sanctuary.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 13, 2008
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