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Refugees' 5-star service; Free groceries delivered to door.

Asylum seekers in Birmingham are being offered a free home shopping service at a cost to the taxpayer of pounds 250,000.

The personal delivery service is more expensive than Harrods, with refugees, including illegal immigrants, ordering groceries from a catalogue without the inconvenience of going to the shops.

A private delivery firm collects the weekly shopping lists and delivers the food to the doorstep within days.

Refugees can chose from a list of ready-cooked meals including lamb masala curry and chicken casserole and herbs such as coriander and tumeric. They can also order toiletries such as Imperial Leather Showergel.

The delivery service has already been tested on 40 of more than 400 refugees being given food and shelter by the council.

Now the cash-strapped social services department - facing a pounds 3 million budget crisis - is to extend the home shopping scheme to all asylum seekers with a delivery cost of pounds 5.95 a week each. The refugees have a budget of up to pounds 29 for th eir goods.

Top London store Harrods offers a delivery service within the M25 for pounds 5, while Rackhams in Birmingham will send Christmas hampers by Parcelforce for pounds 4.50.

Last night senior Tory councillor John Lines (Bartley Green) said the council scheme was a disgrace, adding: "Christmas has come early for asylum seekers."

And Conservative Party spokesman on immigration, Mr James Clappison, said he was concerned public money was being wasted.

The total cost to the council will be pounds 250,000 this year. It is already facing a bill of at least pounds 1 million to house and feed the spiralling number of refugees.

In the past 12 months, the number of asylum seekers in the city has risen from 50 adults and 20 families to 245 adults and 75 parents with children.

The home shopping scheme was revealed as the Government yesterday announced plans to increase the number of bogus asylum seekers being sent home from 7,000 to 12,000 a year by 2001-2.

While asylum bids are considered by the Home Office, refugees have to be housed and fed by the local authorities in which they arrived if they did not announce their intentions on entry to the UK, in which case they can claim benefit.

Each refugee being looked after by the city council will use a catalogue to choose their weekly food and toiletries. It is picked up by Cheshire-based Teleshop, and a few days later the goods are delivered.

Groceries range from chicken curry at pounds 3 and a dried ready meal of beef risotto at 99p, to Shredded Wheat at pounds 1.39 and creamed rice pudding at 45p a tin.

Toothpaste starts at 85p and shower gel at pounds 1.89. Oxo cubes cost 44p for six while a tub of coriander is 79p. Pot Noodles are 77p.

Coun Lines said: "This is an absolute disgrace and sends out completely the wrong message. I know the festive season is upon us but charity starts at home.

"We should be putting our own pensioners first, who have served the country in two World Wars rather than these people, many of whom are simply bogus."

Mr Clappison said: "There is a big question mark over whether this money should be used in this way."

But Ms Pauline Newman, deputy director of Birmingham social services, defended the scheme, saying it was the most efficient way to supply asylum seekers with food.

She said the council was confident it could claim all of the money back from the Government.

"We are simply providing the basic necessities. These are not luxuries and the council is carrying out its legal obligation to provide asylum seekers with food and shelter," she said.

"We are very careful about containing the money we spend on each one within the Government limit of pounds 165 per person per week.

"We cannot give them money and we did try vouchers but found that the shops did not respond to the idea."

Advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi yesterday unveiled a campaign urging people to treat asylum seekers with respect. The Refugee Council said it followed growing hostility towards refugees.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 12, 1998
Words:695
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