Committee of Public Accounts


Press Notice No. 34 of Session 2005-06, dated 14 March 2006


THIRTY-FOURTH REPORT: RETURNING FAILED ASYLUM APPLICANTS (HC 620)

Mr Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, said today:

"Failed asylum applicants are in increasing numbers staying in this country knowing that there is very little likelihood they will be apprehended and removed. The fact is that no one really knows how many of them remain in the UK or where most are living.

"The government body which is supposed to know, the Home Office's Immigration and Nationality Directorate, has come up with an estimate of the size of the backlog of cases for removal - somewhere between 155,000 and 283,500 cases - but the vagueness of this fuels rather than allays our concern. What we can be confident about is that the Directorate is not removing failed asylum seekers anywhere near fast enough and the backlog of cases is growing.

"The situation is extremely serious and the Immigration and Nationality Directorate must take a hard look at its approach to removals. It must without delay establish a target for making substantial inroads on the backlog of older cases. And to meet that target, it must streamline its operations and deploy more staff on front-line work; vastly improve its information about the different categories of asylum seekers; and seriously examine a range of measures which might be deployed more: including detention, electronic tagging, the use of arrest at reporting centres rather than in the community and publicising voluntary removal schemes.

"Unless the Immigration and Nationality Directorate vigorously addresses itself to improving its poor performance, it will take many years to remove the backlog of failed asylum seekers. The integrity of the UK's asylum application process is at stake."

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 34th Report of this Session, which examined the performance of the Home Office's Immigration and Nationality Directorate in returning failed asylum seekers.

The Committee found that the United Kingdom's asylum policy has been undermined by the inability of the Home Office's Immigration and Nationality Directorate (the Directorate) to deal promptly with asylum seekers whose initial application to stay in the United Kingdom fails. The Directorate does not know how many failed asylum applicants remain in the country or where the majority are located, including over 400 criminals released from prison into the community.

The Directorate estimated the backlog of removals at between 155,000 and 283,500. It could not be more precise as it had not kept track of, or collected sufficient data on, those who had changed address or left the country without informing the Directorate. The Directorate was removing around 1,350 failed applicants a month by September 2005, but this was still below the number of newly failed applicants, and hence the backlog is increasing.

Even if there were no new unsuccessful applicants, the Directorate's current level of performance would mean it would take between 10 and 18 years to clear the existing backlog. In practice, the longer failed asylum seekers remain in the United Kingdom, the more difficult it becomes for the Directorate to locate them and arrange removal, and the more likely it is that they will have established roots in the communities in which they live.

The Directorate makes only limited use of detention, preferring instead to use reporting arrangements at dedicated centres or police stations to monitor the whereabouts of asylum applicants. Electronic tagging had produced good results in limited trials but the Directorate was still in the process of evaluating the results of the exercise before rolling it out more widely. Only one local enforcement office routinely arrested failed applicants at their reporting centres rather than in the community, even though there was evidence that arrest at reporting centres was less resource-intensive and more successful.

The Directorate has no targets currently focused on reducing the backlog of removals. Segmenting failed applicants by age, availability of travel documents, criminal record, country of origin and date of arrival in the United Kingdom would help the Directorate tailor its removal strategies and set targets for each group. Increasing awareness of voluntary removal schemes amongst asylum seekers, staff and third parties could increase the take-up of a less costly form of repatriation than enforced removals.

The costs of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate across its full range of responsibilities are some £1.5 billion. The Home Office faces a severe problem, arising from a loss of control in the past. Progress is being made but until the Home Office:

• exceeds its current target to remove as many failed asylum seekers in a year as there are newly failed applicants; and

• starts making significant inroads into removing the large backlog of failed applicants, many of whom have remained in the country for some years;

it is difficult to conclude that the taxpayer is obtaining value for money in the efficiency and effectiveness of the Directorate's operations. On current performance, it will take many years to remove failed asylum seekers, undermining the whole asylum application process.


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