Agencies protest over government's refugee 'snatch squad' plan

 Refugee support groups have joined the police and the Mayor of London to protest over government plans for 'snatch squads' to round up illegal immigrants. Under the plan, four 16-strong teams of 'enforcement officers' from the Home Office will begin operating in the capital by next October, gathering suspected illegal refugees and taking them to a 'processing centre' , possibly near Wembley, North London, prior to being deported. They will have powers of arrest, but in potentially troublesome cases, will call for police support. They aim to remove 30,000 people in the first year. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens has warned Home Secretary John Blunkett that disturbances could break out if immigration officers moved into ethnic areas to grab individuals. Last week, Mayor Ken Livingstone expressed similar fears when he had a meeting with Mr Blunkett. The Home Secretary is said to have told colleagues they will have to "hold their nerve" if the operation leads to a death like that of Joy Gardiner, a 40-year old Jamaican woman who was trussed and gagged during a violent struggle with police officers at her home in Hornsey and died in hospital three days later in July 1993. Three police officers involved were cleared of manslaughter charges. A Scotland Yard spokesperson said: "We are extremely unhappy. Of course we will do what we have to if this goes ahead, but the potential for problems is enormous. Glen Smith, chair of the Metropolitan Police Federation said: ""This will create extra burdens and extra workloads . There are so many asylum seekers in the capital and forcing them to go back on this scale is bound to cause community tensions." Br Bernard Elliott, director of Jesuit Refugee Support Services said: "This is an extremely worrying development. These immigration officers are being given terrific powers. A refugee might have have been given the right to be here - but it takes three months to process the documents. In the meantime these people have the powers to knock on a person's door at six in the morning, and if they can't produce papers, deport them straight away. It is difficult to imagine the fear some refugees must be feeling now." Fr Nick Martin, from Oaklands Refugee Services in Honour Oak, South London echoed these views. He said: "We deplore this scheme. Here at Oaklands we've recently had practical experience of people who have been granted permission to stay but have not yet got their documents. It takes the Home Office ages to send them and in the meantime they are unable to claim benefits. Under this new scheme, if the enforcement squad comes along they could be thrown out of the country."

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