Asylum worries stop academics

March 31, 2000

British government paranoia over asylum seekers is hindering the movement of academics, claim organisers of a conference on the Yugoslav crisis held in Bradford last week.

Bob Jiggins, a lecturer in sociology at the University of Bradford and one of the organisers, said red tape had caused problems for delegates from former Yugoslavia wanting to attend the conference, "The Yugoslav Crisis: International Responses and the Way Forward".

He claimed that just days before the start of the conference, delegates had been asked for proof of qualifications and employment, ownership of property and marriage certificates. One speaker, Svetlana Kijevcanin, from a non-governmental organisation working in Croatia and Bosnia, could not attend because she had no space in her passport for visas.

"Normally, you would just get an extra slip of paper," he said. "It is becoming more and more difficult to get into Britain. It has hit us, and it will hit other people."

John Allcock, head of the university's research unit in southeast European studies, said: "The Home Office is paranoid about people arriving in this country to attend an academic conference and then declaring that they wish to seek asylum here."

He said it had been doubly difficult because pressure from the Yugoslav authorities had already caused several delegates to abandon the conference.

Allcock said that government obstacles on both sides were restricting informed dialogue on the Balkan crisis.

But a Foreign Office spokesman said that there had been no recent tightening of rules governing entry to Britain.

"Each individual application is treated on its merits, and it makes no difference if you are an academic or on a shopping trip from Kiev," he said.

"If documents are in order and they are genuinely doing what they say, applications of this kind are turned around in 24 hours."

He said Bradford should contact the Foreign Office if it had any complaints.

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