Secret asylum clear-up

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Immigration officials have exploited the political vacuum created by the election - and the absence of MPs - rapidly to resolve more than 12,000 sensitive asylum cases. Many of these will result in "enforcement actions" - the Home Office's term for the repatriation of someone back to their country of origin.

According to a senior Home Office official, the project has so far been "remarkably successful", with as many as 600 cases being decided in the last three weeks. The Immigration and Nationality Directorate - a department of the Home Office - has created a taskforce to deal with these controversial cases.

The 25-strong group, part of the Asylum Arrears Implementation Project, started work on 7 April - a fortnight after Parliament was prorogued, and the day before its dissolution.

The scheme was devised in January, but a senior Home Office official told The Independent: "It was very convenient that it was set up at a time when no MPs were available to defend constituents."

The director of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Claude Moraes, has written to the Home Office Minister, Timothy Kirkwood, asking him to "come clean" on why the taskforce was set up. He also asked whether it was coincidence that the new system had come into operation just before the dissolution of Parliament.

Once an initial decision on an asylum-seeker has been taken, it is much more difficult to overturn, and applicants lose their right to social security benefits.

It is impossible to tell how successful the scheme has been because Home Office figures on deportations, or "enforcement actions" as it prefers them to be known, lump together asylum and immigration cases. However, a senior Home Office figure said that more than 200 cases are being dealt with each week.

According to a written Commons answer from Mr Kirkwood to Mike Gapes, then MP for Ilford South, the Home Office acknowledged that the project "has the aim of producing a higher rate of decisions within the staff resources already allocated to this block of work".

A Home Office spokeswoman said ministers were keen to clear the backlog of asylum cases, which had risen to 69,000 18 months ago but was now around 10,000 lower.

"People can only be removed once their case has been completed and they have exercised their rights to appeal. That takes months," she said.