Failed asylum-seekers 'living illegally in UK'

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The Independent Online

More than 500 asylum seekers from the Government's main detention centre are living illegally in Britain, the Home Secretary admitted yesterday.

More than 500 asylum seekers from the Government's main detention centre are living illegally in Britain, the Home Secretary admitted yesterday.

Jack Straw told MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee that seven out of 10 failed asylum applicants at the Oakington detention centre in Cambridgeshire had not left the country. He said that although immigration officials were processing asylum applications at a record rate of 3,000 a week, it was proving "very difficult" to send home some of the failed applicants.

Mr Straw said that of 763 Oakington asylum-seekers who had appealed against refusals, 28 had been successful. But of the other 735, only 231 had voluntarily left the country or been removed. The remaining 504 were living illegally in the UK.

Humfrey Malins, a Tory MP, suggested to Mr Straw that immigration officials did not know the whereabouts of large numbers of the 72,000 asylum applicants whose cases were still being dealt with. He said: "The chance of people being removed is so low as to bring the whole system into mockery."

Stephen Boys Smith, the head of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, admitted to the same committee earlier this month that "as many as hundreds of thousands" of asylum-seekers could have gone missing.

But the Home Secretary said the Government had invested £600m in the immigration system and taken on extra staff to effect removals. He said the changes had led to a significant fall in applications from Eastern Europe and pointed out that most asylum-seekers now came from countries clearly undergoing civil unrest, such as Iraq, Somalia and Sri Lanka.

Mr Straw said it was hard to return applicants from such states. "We have to acknowledge that if someone comes from a country where there is huge civil disturbance and there might not be an effective government, simply trying to make arrangements with that government ... is very difficult."

The Home Secretary said that Britain's problems with illegal immigration were largely due to its obligations under the Dublin Convention, which prevent officials turning back unlikely refugees at sea ports such as Dover.

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