Report slams government's asylum policy

The all-party Home Affairs Select committee has published a report today criticising the government over its policy on asylum.

Disturbingly, the report warns that there could be a sizeable political backlash from extremists – such as that seen in the BNP council gains in north England last week – if there is no adequate policy to deal with the issue in a humane and effective manner.

The report is also critical of the Home Office pledge to remove 30,000 failed asylum seekers each year – a target which was never reached but which created unrealistic expectations, according to the committee.

The report also acknowledged the "unacceptably" large numbers of asylum applications which immigration authorities have had to deal with – citing the figure of 4,223 applicants in 1982, which spiralled to over 110,000 last year.

Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes said the government would consider the report's findings carefully, adding: "I am also pleased that the committee acknowledges that there are no 'simple, overnight solutions' and recognises that the government is often hindered by the lack of co-operation from source countries and problems obtaining adequate documentation in effecting removals."

The minister pointed to new measures such as the setting up of UK Immigration controls in France and extending the use of screening technology along the North European coastline. Ms Hughes said that the UK Immigration Service had stepped up its efforts in removing failed applicants, and had increased deportations by a quarter on 2001's mark.

She added: "Last year we also removed 40,000 other immigration offenders, and 1,190 people chose to depart voluntarily to their country of origin using the services of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM)."

Margaret Lally, acting Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, contribution as called on the government to implement the report's recommendations as soon as possible.

“The government must ensure standards of international law are upheld, that asylum seekers are given adequate access to legal representation, and the opportunity exists to challenge decisions," she said.

"As noted in the report, improving the quality of initial decision-making and ensuring asylum seekers are treated to a fair hearing would increase the efficiency of the whole process and is an essential pre-requisite for a properly functioning removals process.

Commenting on the report, the Shadow Home Secretary Oliver Letwin called on the government to scrap the present system.

“This report is a damning indictment of a system in chaos. It bears out what the Conservatives have been saying for a long time – that the government’s strategy is deeply flawed," he said.

“According to the government’s own figures, it will take 50 years and four months just to clear the current backlog of failed asylum seekers.

“It is also alarming to learn that the government does not have the faintest idea of how many failed asylum seekers remain in the country. This indicates the extent to which they have lost control.”

The Lib Dem Shadow Home Secretary Simon Hughes praised the committee's "humane" report, adding: “My experience is that providing early and honest advice to people about their prospects for asylum or economic migration goes a long way towards minimising the problems."


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