Asylum claim figure rises by 5%
Figures show 6,455 people applied for asylum in three months
The number of asylum seekers seeking refuge in the UK rose by 5% in the first three months of 2006.
Home Office figures show that while long-term trend remains downwards, 6,455 people applied for protection between January and March.
The largest number came from Zimbabwe – 755, up 96% on the previous quarter.
Ministers say they have met the prime minister's key target for failed asylum applicant removals to exceed the number of new suspected unfounded cases.
In September 2004, amid political pressure over immigration, Tony Blair said that by the end of 2005, monthly removals of failed asylum applicants should exceed the number of new unfounded cases.
Last year the Home Office admitted it would need until February 2006 to meet that target.
Overall, removals of failed asylum seekers in the first three months of 2006 were up almost a fifth on the previous quarter and 43% on the previous year – a record high.
Liam Byrne, the new immigration minister appointed on Monday, said: “The figures published today show that in February we met our target of removing more failed asylum seekers than there were suspected unfounded claims and sustained this during March.
“This is a significant achievement and is a result of our determined efforts to ensure those who have no right to remain in the UK are returned home.”
Of the 6,455 new cases in the first three months of 2006, the largest single group of applicants were Zimbabweans, totalling 755 – up 96% on the last three months of 2005.
Other top nationalities were Eritrea, Iran, Somalia and Afghanistan, reflecting on a long-term continued arrival of asylum seekers from nations with conflicts or documented persecution.
Immigration officials have speeded up initial decisions, dealing with 6,260 cases between January and the end of March, up 11% on the previous quarter.
However, the number of asylum seekers initially rejected but then allowed to stay on reconsideration rose to more than a quarter of all those who appealed.
Some 44% of Eritreans and 46% of Somalis who appealed in the first quarter were found to have been wrongly rejected.
The number of asylum seekers granted “hard case support” – people who have had their cases rejected but cannot be sent home for a variety of reasons – jumped by 90% in the first three months.
By the end of March some 5,435 people were receiving this support.
The largest single group of people receiving this special support were rejected asylum seekers from Iraq.
Children in detention
However, the figures also show that the number of children being held in immigration detention, because their parents have failed in an asylum claim, has increased.
TOP APPLYING NATIONALITIES, Q1 2006
Source: Home Office
In the last three months of 2005, some 540 children had been in removal centres, up a fifth on the previous quarter.
Sarah Cutler, assistant director of Bail for Immigration Detainees, said separate Home Office figures requested by the charity showed that 36% of the 540 children had not been removed from Britain as a result of detention, the purpose behind removal centres.
“The Home Office says that it only uses detention for families when it is necessary to do so for short periods in the interests of removing people who should not be in the country,” said Ms Cutler.
“But the figures show some 195 children needlessly suffered detention, with all the ill effects that has on their health and development.”
Charities involved in a campaign against holding children in immigration removal centres called for the government to rethink the policy.
“The government has said that detention affects only a small number of families. These figures show that to be far from true,” said Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of Save the Children.
“Five hundred and forty children were affected in the last three months of 2005 by the traumatic experience of being locked up in detention centres, in many cases for long periods of time.”
Refugee Council chief executive Maeve Sherlock added: “There are better alternatives that would put children's rights first, and cost the taxpayer less.
“We are calling on the new Home Secretary, John Reid, to consider these alternatives.”