Home Affairs Committee Press Notice

  Session 2003-04, dated 2 July 2004



The Home Affairs Committee's report on Asylum Applications will debated in Westminster Hall on Thursday 8 July, from 2.30 to 5.30 pm.

The Committee's report was published on 26 January (Second Report of Session 2003-04, House of Commons Paper No. 218-I). The Government's reply was published as a command paper on 25 March (Cm 6166).

The debate is open to the public.

The report's main conclusions are as follows:

The report, which looks at the asylum system as a whole, broadly backs the Government's present strategy and concludes that the recent fall in asylum applications is due at least in part to current Government measures. The Committee backs the use of induction and accommodation centres, fast track processing of claims, and language analysis schemes to detect nationality fraud. But the report also recommends further measures that should be taken to ensure public confidence in the asylum system.

The MPs propose greater 'front loading' of the applications system, to put more resources into achieving fair and sustainable decisions at the earlier stage, including better provision of good quality legal aid and interpretations. They suggest that this will not only serve the interests of justice, but eliminate much of the need for initial decisions to be reconsidered through the appeals process.

There should be a fundamental attempt to integrate asylum decision-making, voluntary departure and compulsory removals. A failed claim should lead to swift action to effect a removal.

And more should be done to tackle illegal working, including more effective action against employers who knowingly employ illegal migrants. The Committee recommends the use of tough new powers under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

It identifies a number of reasons why the UK has recently attracted a larger share of the EU's asylum applications. These include our longstanding reputation for justice and fairness and historic and family links as well as perceptions of low removal levels, lengthy appeal proceedings, the absence of systematic identity checks and opportunities to work, either legally or illegally.

The Committee concludes that the UK is not a 'soft-touch' for asylum seekers but its recommendations are intended to tackle the weaknesses in the system and avoid the need for further amnesties for asylum seekers.

The report points out that, as the asylum system is tightened to tackle abuse, it will become more difficult for genuine asylum seekers to make claims in the UK.

The MPs also conclude that those who are able to make claims in the UK are not necessarily those refugees whose needs are greatest. The Committee calls for new efforts to tackle the conflicts which lead to migration and improved assistance for refugees closer to their country of origin. As the number of asylum applications made in the UK falls, the Government should increase the number of refugees accepted into the UK under the auspices of the UNHCR, which can identify refugees who are particularly in need of protection.