Blair's asylum pledge broken as removals drop
By Philip Johnston, Home Affairs Editor
Last Updated: 1:30am BST 23/05/2007
The number of failed asylum seekers removed from the country has fallen by a third in a year, according to the latest official figures.
The dramatic decline comes despite a promise from Tony Blair to speed up deportations.
In September 2004 the Prime Minister pledged to accelerate the removal of an estimated 250,000 asylum seekers who have exhausted all legal processes. At the time, there were around 1,000 deportations a month – and the latest Home Office statistics show they are back at that level.
There was a surge in deportations after John Reid took over as Home Secretary and demanded better enforcement of the law. But towards the end of last year the number collapsed.
In the first quarter of this year 3,370 asylum applicants were removed – 34 per cent fewer than in the same period last year. Nearly 700 of these went home under the Assisted Voluntary Return scheme whereby applicants are helped with resettlement costs.
Over the past 12 months, 16,520 asylum seekers were removed – four per cent less than in the year to April 2006.
Nobody know for certain how many failed asylum seekers remain in the country. A report from the Commons public accounts committee estimated the number as between 155,000 and 283,500. At the current rate of removals, it would take 18 years to clear the backlog.
Campaigners have argued that there should be an amnesty for failed asylum seekers to regularise their circumstances and let them work and pay taxes. But this has been flatly rejected ministers who say it would be a ''magnet for other economic migrants to travel to Britain.
The latest figures show that the numbers applying for asylum have fallen significantly since the high point in 2000, when there were more than 100,000 applications. In the last quarter, there were 5,680 applications – the lowest since 1993.
In a bid to speed up removals, the Home Office has identified another ten countries whose nationals will be presumed not to have a legitimate claim to political asylum.
Officials said one reason for the decline in removal enforcement was that immigration officers were focussing on the deportation of foreign criminals who were released from British jails but never sent home.
Liam Byrne, the immigration minister, said: “We said we would deport those who are most harmful first.
“When you look at the number of foreign national prisoners deported in the last year its nearly doubled.”
He added: “We are not going to relax our efforts to deport failed asylum seekers.”
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migrationwatch, which campaigns against mass immigration, said: “The Governments failure yet again to meet its removals target means that they are making absolutely no impression on the quarter of a million failed asylum seekers still in Britain.”
Separate figures today have confirmed that the huge influx of workers from eastern Europe continues unabated.
Since May 2004, when eight former Soviet-bloc nations joined the EU, 630,000 have registered to work in the UK, mostly Poles.
This figure does not include the self-employed or those who decide to get a job without telling the authorities.
The Home Office said that about 8,000 Romanians and Bulgarians have come to work in Britain since they joined at the beginning of this year, though no accurate figures are kept.
Mr Byrne said: “While it remains too soon to evaluate the full impact of the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU, the early indications are that our policy of restricting access to the UKs labour market is helping to ensure that only those who have something to offer the UK are allowed to work here.”
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2 April 2007: 200,000 'lost' asylum seekers may stay
8 March 2007: How forecasts by Migrationwatch stirred up a political hornets' nest