Refugee process in UK 'wasting millions'

Some refugees had been driven to attempt suicide
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Home Affairs Correspondent

The Home Office has been accused of wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers' money, pursuing "protracted and ineffectual" procedures to deal with refugees.

The damning study by Amnesty International is likely to prove an embarrassment for the Home Secretary, who in February was forced to spend an extra pounds 37m to deal with a backlog crisis in asylum procedures and promised "a better deal for the taxpayer and for the genuine asylum-seeker". He is also expected to announce a further crack down soon.

The detailed study examined Home Office use of the "third country" procedures whereby refugees can be refused asylum if they first pass through one or more countries deemed to be safe, and returned to that first "safe" country. It found that out of 60 cases examined, the Home Office is likely to be forced to rescind its decision in no less than 56 cases - giving a "success" rate of less than seven per cent, with costs of appeals, court hearings, administration and travel likely to run into millions.

Those caught up in the process, being bounced between countries or the courts often after fleeing bloodshed and torture, were caused considerable distress. Some had been driven to attempt suicide.

The report concludes that the third country fast track rule could not have been bettered had it been deliberately designed to be "protracted and ineffectual". The report says "such profligate expenditure of pubic funds" should be a matter of deep concern to immigration ministers but so far there has been no internal audit of such cases.

"This profligacy is even more shocking when one considers the pressing need to address the back-log of more than 57,500 asylum cases awaiting determination by the Home Office, many of which have now been outstanding for several years, and the current crisis of resources in the asylum appeals system as whole."

But yesterday the Home Office strongly refuted the figures, costings and conclusions of Amnesty, claiming that the 60 cases were not a fair reflection of third country cases. It said that the unit in the immigration department, dealing with third party claims, cost less than pounds 100,000 a year.