Taxpayers fund new houses for failed asylum seekers under new Home Office scheme
Failed asylum seekers who agree to leave Britain voluntarily are being offered enough money to build a brand new house in their homeland, under a new Home Office scheme.
By David Barrett, Home Affairs Correspondent
Last Updated: 5:41PM GMT 16 Nov 2008
Afghans and Iraqis whose asylum claims have been rejected, and who have no right to remain in the UK, can each claim 6,000 of taxpayers' money if they agree to leave.
Ministers have authorised an extra 2,000 housing grant for each person – enough to build a house in Afghanistan – on top of an existing 4,000 package. A Home Office spokesman said 600 foreigners are expected to take up the additional cash, which is meant to be spent on building a home or repairing an existing family property.
Refugees who have been granted leave to remain in the UK, and those whose asylum claims are yet to be decided, are also eligible for the money. Many will have entered the UK illegally.
An Afghan earning the country's 250 annual average wage would have to work for 24 years to earn the same amount as the total Home Office handout, while an Iraqi on the country's 1,200 annual average wage would have to work for five years.
The total cost to the British taxpayer of the new initiative will be 1.2 million a year.
Ana Fonseca of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), a UN agency which administers schemes for the Home Office to send asylum seekers back to countries across the globe, said: “Most of the beneficiaries of our programmes return to their original homes. But in Afghanistan and Iraq particularly, the condition of the property may have deteriorated during their absence.”
She added that the house-building subsidies would also “contribute to the wider community through the use of locally-sourced materials”.
The 2,000 additional grant, known as the Return and Rebuild scheme, was launched in September with little publicity and is due to run for one year.
IOM spokesman Marek Effendowicz said he expected nearly everyone who returned to the two countries to apply for the cash.
“We believe there will be enormous uptake,” he said. “I haven't got figures yet but I expect that the vast majority will apply. Why wouldn't they? In Afghanistan one could build whole little house for that money.”
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migrationwatch, which campaigns against mass immigration, said: “No wonder the Government are trying to keep quiet about this increase in benefits. This policy is rapidly becoming both expensive and counter-productive.
“We are offering people from these countries a win-win situation. Either their story is believed and they get access to a welfare state for life, or they are disbelieved and they return much richer than most of their compatriots.”
Last year, 4,155 failed asylum seekers and other irregular immigrants agreed to leave the UK under the Home Office's range of “assisted return” schemes.
A total of 1,755 Afghans and Iraqis were either deported or took up a voluntary return scheme last year; the Home Office refused to say how many fell into each category.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We consider it reasonable to expect those individuals who have been found by an independent judge and appeals process not to be in need of protection to return home.
“We will not apologise for trying to spare the British taxpayer the 11,000 cost of an enforced removal. If people refuse to return home we will seek to enforce their removal — last year we removed a person every eight minutes.
“People who don't go home voluntarily are not eligible for any re-integration assistance.”
Last December it was revealed that more than 23,000 failed asylum seekers had shared 36 million in hand-outs under voluntary return projects since they were introduced in 1999.
The foreigners are given free flights, handed 1,000 in cash at the airport and paid a further 3,000 to start businesses in their homelands.
A 35-year-old Iranian who benefited from the programme used the money to set up an ostrich farm, a woman from Zimbabwe set up a beauty salon on returning to Harare after six years in Britain and an Albanian established a vineyard in his home country.
The Conservatives have previously condemned the payouts as “bribes”.
David Davies, a Tory MP and member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: “Why are we rewarding people by giving them thousands of pounds to do something which should happen anyway? It makes us a laughing stock all over the world.
“All this achieves is encourage more asylum seekers to come here. They know that they'll either win the jackpot and be allowed to stay, or get the booby prize of up to 6,000, which is a huge sum in any Third World country.”