Asylum applications at seven-year low

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The flow of asylum-seekers arriving in Britain has fallen to a seven-year low, while record numbers of immigrants are being allowed to settle in the country, the Home Office announced yesterday.

The flow of asylum-seekers arriving in Britain has fallen to a seven-year low, while record numbers of immigrants are being allowed to settle in the country, the Home Office announced yesterday.

Ministers believe the statistics prove action to tighten controls against refugees has paid off. But critics suggested that the Government was still struggling to remove failed asylum-seekers from the country, claiming it was evidence that the system was still in chaos.

The Home Office said 7,920 asylum applications were received in the second quarter of the year, an 11 per cent fall since the first three months of 2004 and 26 per cent lower than the same period last year. The falls appear to reflect the closure of the Sangatte refugee camp near Calais two years ago and the introduction of tougher checks on vehicles at Channel ports.

Over the period 11,720 initial decisions were made on asylum applications, of which nearly 90 per cent were rejections. A total of 355 people were given asylum, 855 granted discretionary leave to remain and 40 offered humanitarian protection.

There were 11,970 appeals to the Immigration Appellate Authority against decisions, of which 2,755 were upheld.

The number of failed asylum-seekers being deported fell sharply, with 3,725 people, including dependants, being removed, 9 per cent fewer than in the previous three months and 18 per cent fewer than in the same quarter of 2003.

Separate figures showed the number of immigrants allowed to settle climbed by 20 per cent in 2003 to 139,675 people, the highest figure on record.

Des Browne, the Immigration minister, said the Government had made "good progress in dramatically cutting asylum claims" and hoped to drive the figures down further with new measures against applicants with unfounded claims. He said: "We have cut abuse and are protecting our borders while at the same time offering a haven to those genuinely fleeing persecution, and providing controlled legal routes for workers who want to make a contribution to the UK."

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, countered: "The fall in the number of people claiming asylum isn't a big surprise. When the problem of illegal immigrants entering the country is blatantly ignored, no wonder fewer people bother to claim asylum. The fact remains that Britain's asylum system is a laughing stock."

The right-wing think-tank Migrationwatch accused the Government of "another spin operation" to distract attention from the record numbers of people allowed to settle in Britain.

APPLICATIONS

April-June 02 20,090

July-Sept 02: 22,030

Oct-Dec 02: 22,760

Jan-March 03: 15,855

April-June 03: 10,670

July-Sept 03: 12,055

Oct-Dec 03: 10,825

Jan-Mar 04: 8,940

April-June 04: 7,920

(Excluding dependants)

Top 10 nationalities applying in April-June

Iran 685 (-6%)

China 595 (-3%)

Somalia 540 (-46%)

Zimbabwe 505 (-7%)

Pakistan 475 (+18%)

Iraq 410 (+20%)

Afghanistan 355 (+25%)

India 310 (-19%)

Nigeria 300 (+7%)

Sudan 300 (+13%)

(Figure in brackets represents change from Jan-Mar)

Source: Home Office

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