The government can be sure of the whereabouts of only 25% of the estimated 200,000-250,000 failed asylum seekers currently in Britain, the Home Office said last night.
Sir John Gieve, the outgoing permanent secretary at the Home Office, also said he would not “bet his mortgage” on the government meeting the prime minister’s December deadline for ensuring that the number of rejected asylum seekers removed from the country each month exceeded the number of new claims.
Speaking to the Commons all-party public accounts committee, Jeremy Oppenheim of the National Asylum Seeker Support Service said the Home Office knew the addresses of “nearly all” the families whose claims for asylum had been rejected because they were claiming benefits. But he admitted that such families comprised “probably about 25%” of the 200,000 to 250,000 rejected asylum seekers now living in the country.
Sir John Gieve said that while the Home Office had addresses for the remaining 75%, it was impossible to guarantee they would be there when immigration enforcement officers called. He also told MPs that although the immigration service was “on the verge” of meeting the government’s asylum deportations target set by Tony Blair he could not guarantee that it would be met by December.
While admitting that there had been a “severe problem and loss of control” in the asylum system, Sir John said progress has been made in the past two years with a sharp reduction in the number of fresh asylum seekers and increasing numbers of those who were rejected being sent home. He told the committee fresh asylum claims were running at 2,000 a month in June with removals running at 1,300 a month and rising. “I don’t know if I would go so far as to say I expect to hit [the target],” he said. “We’re pretty clear we’re going to hit it in the next few months, I just don’t know whether we’re going to hit it before the end of the year.”
He told the MPs they had to realise the difficulties involved in trying to deport rejected asylum seekers with compulsory removals not possible to Iraq, Somalia and Zimbabwe and now, because of the earthquake, Pakistan.
He also said some foreign countries were working to frustrate attempts to send failed asylum seekers back.
A Home Office spokeswoman said last night: “We have significantly reduced asylum applications and have increased the proportion of failed asylum seekers we return. In 1996 the number of removals was equivalent to only 20% of predicted unfounded claims, now that proportion is around 50%.”
She added: “While progress has been made we know there is more to do which is why measures to increase and speed up removals are at the heart of our five year strategy on asylum and immigration published in February.”