School fees paid for returning asylum seekers
By Philip Johnston,
Home Affairs Editor
Last Updated: 2:38am BST 24/10/2007
Free education, accommodation and cash handouts are to be given to failed asylum seekers to encourage them to return home under a Home Office scheme, it emerged yesterday.
The packages could be worth many thousands of pounds for a family of four depending on their circumstances. Officials said taxpayers could end up paying for up to three years of schooling, especially for children who had forgotten their native tongue.
They would also pay for three months' accommodation and child care for single mothers who have to work. Some families would be offered money to start their own business.
The package is an upgraded version of the Voluntary Assisted Return and Reintegration Programme, which has been running since 2002. It is aimed at reducing the backlog of people who have come to Britain to claim asylum but have been turned down.
The Home Office estimates there are more than 400,000 who are no longer entitled to be in this country – yet forced returns are both expensive and in decline.
At the moment, asylum seekers who return voluntarily each receive a 500 “relocation grant” in cash. This is payable even to babies born here. On top of that, a business start-up payment of 2,000 is available.
The new scheme – which is 80 per cent funded by the Home Office and 20 per cent by the European Union – will be tailored to meet the needs of the asylum seekers.
The 500 payment will stay but the business grant will be increased to up to 2, 000 with a further 500 after six months if the enterprise is still going. Families with a lot of baggage will even have their excess luggage charges met at the airport.When they get home, if they have no relatives or friends to stay with they will be given money for basic accommodation for up to 12 weeks.
Children who have grown up in Britain and cannot speak their own language may need to go to a fee-paying international school for at least a year. Fees could be paid for children at a state school because some countries charge if the family has been out of the country and has paid no taxes.
The Home Office said the cost of the programme would be cheaper than looking after families in Britain or enforcing their departure. A National Audit Office report last year estimated that it cost 11,000 to eject one person from the country.
Liam Byrne, the immigration minister, said: 'Last year we removed more failed asylum seekers than ever before. We will not hesitate to use enforced returns, but when we can spare British taxpayers the 11,000 these each cost, we will. Reintegration assistance isn't new and frees up money to hire more immigration officers.”
But while removals rose last year, they have been falling since. At the present rate of removals it would take 25 years for all failed asylum seekers to be sent home.
David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said: “It is extraordinary that the Government, having so patently failed to do its job, now has to bribe asylum seekers to return by paying for private schooling in their country of origin.”
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