M.P.'s Criticized for Urging Crackdown on Asylum Seekers

A view into a room at the Colnbrook Immigration Removal Center near London's Heathrow Airport, built for immigration detainees whose removal from the U.K. is imminent because they have been denied asylum or entered the country illegally. (Photo: Peter Macdiarmid / AFP-Getty Images)

British members of Parliament have been criticized for urging the government to lock up or tag failed asylum seekers.

The M.P.s, who sit on the Public Accounts Committee, said action was needed to slash a growing backlog of claimants and to keep track of the number of asylum seekers who continue to live in Britain after their applications had been turned down.

In its report March 14), the Public Accounts Committee called for tough new targets to be set and said the "extremely serious" situation could take nearly two decades to sort out at present rates.

They said that until "significant inroads" are made into the backlog, the taxpayer would not receive value for money for the £1.5 billion ($2.6 billion) a year spent on the Immigration and Nationality Directorate.

In addition to tougher measures such as detention and electronic tagging, the M.P.s said the Directorate should also do more to encourage people to take advantage of far cheaper voluntary removal schemes. They recommended testing a U.S.-style sponsor system, where a member of the community takes responsibility for supervising an individual asylum seeker. They also called for more arrests to be made at reporting centers rather than in the community, and for the redirection of cash from areas such as human resources to pay for improved frontline enforcement work.

The committee's Conservative chairman Edward Leigh said, "Failed asylum applicants are in increasing numbers staying in this country knowing that there is very little likelihood they will be apprehended and removed."

He said no one really knows how many of the asylum seekers remain in the United Kingdom or where most are living.

"The government body which is supposed to know, the Home Office's Immigration and Nationality Directorate, has come up with an estimate of the size of the backlog of cases for removal — somewhere between 155,000 and 283,500 cases — but the vagueness of this fuels rather than allays our concern.

"What we can be confident about is that the Directorate is not removing failed asylum seekers anywhere near fast enough and the backlog of cases is growing," he said.

Leigh described the situation as extremely serious and said the Immigration and Nationality Directorate must establish, without delay, a target for making substantial inroads on the backlog of older cases.

"And to meet that target, it must streamline its operations and deploy more staff on frontline work; vastly improve its information about the different categories of asylum seekers; and seriously examine a range of measures which might be deployed more, including detention, electronic tagging, the use of arrest at reporting centers rather than in the community and publicizing voluntary removal schemes.

"Unless the Immigration and Nationality Directorate vigorously addresses itself to improving its poor performance, it will take many years to remove the backlog of failed asylum seekers.

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"The integrity of the U.K.'s asylum application process is at stake," he said.

While Immigration Minister Tony McNulty said the British government was "either doing or seriously considering" many of the committee's recommendations, Maeve Sherlock, chief executive of the Refugee Council — the largest group working with asylum seekers in the United Kingdom — said she was surprised to hear the Public Accounts Committee calling for another crackdown.

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