Asylum Chaos As 250,000 People Avoid Deportation

Richard Ford, Times Online (London), July 19

More than a quarter of a million failed asylum-seekers are still living in Britain, despite the Government’s drive to increase the number of removals.

A highly critical report by the National Audit Office exposes the chaos of the asylum system, with a catalogue of failings including financial mismanagement and near-shambolic record keeping.

The report states that the Immigration and Nationality Directorate is struggling to meet the Government’s latest target that by the end of the year the number of monthly removals should exceed applicants rejected. The number of failed applicants removed from the country fell last year.

The report estimates that the number of failed asylum applicants who have remained in the country was between 155,000 and 283,000 in May last year. Even the lower figure is likely to be an underestimate because it is based on a government database that excludes cases from before the database was introduced in 2000.

Edward Leigh, the chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said: “The Immigration and Nationality Directorate has a target to effect as many removals per month as there are new unfounded cases. Despite a massive increase in expenditure on immigration enforcement to £300 million a year, IND has not yet come close to meeting this target.”

It costs £600 million a year to deal with removals, including £300 million on supporting those waiting to leave the country, according to the report, Returning Failed Asylum Applicants. It costs an estimated £11,000 to remove each failed asylum-seeker.

The report uncovered weaknesses in contracts with private security firms escorting failed asylum-seekers within the UK. For five years until last year, the IND did not keep information on the contractors’ ability to meet operational requirements. A review of one contract in 2002 found that payments had been made for seven months for escorting activities at Yarls Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire, even though the premises had been empty because of a riot and fire.

Poor recordkeeping is also blamed for the high expenditure. The report found that more than half of potentially removable asylum applicants in May last year went through the application process more than three years previously.

Sir John Bourn, the head of the NAO, said: “The Immigration and Nationality Directorate has made progress but needs to do a better job to track and manage cases and do more to encourage failed asylum applicants to return home voluntarily.”

Tony McNulty, the immigration minsiter, defended the Government’s record and said that the number of asylum applications had fallen significantly. He added: “In 1996 the number of removals was equivalent to only 20 per cent of predicted unfounded claims, now that proportion is around 50 per cent.”

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