Asylum applications reduced by 9%
Minister Liam Byrne said 'an important step' had been taken
Asylum applications fell by 9% last year to their lowest level since 1993, Home Office figures show.
At the same time the number of failed asylum seekers removed from the UK increased by 16%.
But the government failed to meet its target to remove failed asylum seekers in the final two quarters of last year.
Shadow home secretary David Davis said the figures showed the government had failed to “get a grip on the chaos in the immigration and asylum system”.
Last year, just under 28,000 people applied for asylum in the UK, including dependants.
This is a substantial achievement and shows how far we have come since asylum applications were at their peak in 2002 
Liam Byrne, Home Office minister
The number of asylum claimants has fallen steadily since more than 100,000 applied in 2002.
The three countries with the most claimants in 2006 were Eritrea, Afghanistan and Iran.
Across 2006 the government hit its target to deport more failed applicants than the number of “unfounded” cases arriving in the same period.
A total of 18,235 claimants were deported compared with 17,780 “unfounded” cases.
The “tipping point” target was introduced in 2005 by Prime Minister Tony Blair.
When John Reid became home secretary in May the tipping point was made one of his top priorities.
In the final quarter of last year ministers were 10% behind their target to deport more failed asylum seekers than “unfounded” cases arriving.
From October to December, there were 4,085 deportations compared with 4,560 arrivals – a shortfall of 475. A shortfall was also recorded in the third quarter of last year.
Predicted Unfounded Asylum Applications in 2004: 30,000; Asylum Seekers Removed in 2004: 15,000
Predicted Unfounded Asylum Applications in 2005: 22,000; Asylum Seekers Removed in 2005: 16,000
Predicyed Unfounded Asylum Applications in 2006: 17,000; Asylum Seekers Removed in 2006: 17,500
Graph comparing numbers of predicted unfounded asylum applicati
The statistics released on Tuesday are for the final quarter of last year and complete the picture for 2006.
Shadow home secretary David Davis said the government was taking too long to remove a backlog of failed asylum seekers.
“These statistics betray John Reid's utter failure to get a grip on the chaos in the immigration and asylum system,” he said.
“At this rate it will take over half a millennium just to remove the backlog of failed asylum seekers already in this country.
“This failure is compounded by the fact that John Reid has diverted substantial resources to immigration and asylum and in the process ignored other fiascos, like foreign prisoners not being deported and overseas convictions not being recorded.”
Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg said: “The government has failed yet again to meet its own 'tipping point' in the removal of failed asylum seekers despite 10 years of tough talk and ever more restrictive measures.
“It seems high time for John Reid to revisit our proposal for an entirely independent asylum agency.”
Immigration Minister Liam Byrne said of the annual figure: “This is a substantial achievement and shows how far we have come since asylum applications were at their peak in 2002.
“There are now fewer people than ever coming to the UK and making unfounded claims for asylum, and we are removing more failed asylum seekers than ever before.”