Backlog swamps asylum system

Number of unresolved cases has jumped to 8,700, National Audit Office says

Britain's asylum system is "struggling to cope" with a backlog of cases which doubled last year, the National Audit Office has warned in a highly critical report. It said the number of the UK Border Agency's unresolved cases jumped from 4,200 to 8,700.

More than one in 10 asylum refusals was still based on decision letters by officials that were "poor or not fully effective", the NAO said, adding that the UK Border Agency needed to be "sharper" despite efforts to streamline the system introduced two years ago. Auditors said the number of failed applications still exceeded the number of people being deported by 20 per cent and warned that only a quarter of people refused asylum last year were sent back to their home country. The NAO said officials did not have a way of tracking refugees so their status can be reviewed when their permission to remain in Britain expires after five years.

The report said the Government was not resolving cases fast enough to meet its target of clearing a backlog of 335,000 "legacy" asylum files by 2011.

Border Agency officials claim they are clearing old cases at the rate of 10,000 a month and are on course to meet the target, but the NAO said the Border Agency had been dealing with just 4,000 a month.

Chris Grayling, the shadow Home Secretary, denounced the system as a "shambles". He added: "This report is a shocking indictment of... our immigration and asylum system. Far from making inroads, the problem of backlogs is steadily getting worse.

"This will not only place more burdens on the UK taxpayer at a time of economic crisis, it is also an inhumane way to treat asylum applicants."

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, remarked: "This is appalling news for the thousands of people who are awaiting a decision and whose experience of the UK Border Agency is Kafkaesque.

"Month after month goes by with cases in limbo and people in destitution because they are unable to work. In the name of humanity, ministers must fix this broken system."

Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: "We have first- hand experience of the problems with the current system, from case owners not being present all the way through the process, through to people not being able to access legal advice before their main interview. Apart from the fact that for many people this is a matter of life and death, if decisions are wrong because of a lack of legal representation people will be in the system for longer, something no one wants."

Lin Homer, chief executive of the UK Border Agency, said: "We are strengthening our checks on decision making, recruiting more staff and committed to conclude 90 per cent of new asylum cases within six months by 2011."

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