Asylum policy forces officials to go for soft targets

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Indy Politics

Immigration officers are facing growing accusations that they are picking on "soft targets" in an attempt to fulfil Tony Blair's demands for more failed asylum-seekers to be deported.

The system for processing asylum claims has been streamlined and efforts to remove rejected applicants stepped up by the Government.

The Prime Minister repeatedly argues it has now got a grip on the process, slashing the time it takes to decide on claims and cutting the backlog of asylum-seekers whose applications have been rejected.

He set the Home Office the target of deporting more failed asylum-seekers than make unfounded claims by the end of 2005, a moment he described as a "tipping point" in policy.

But the increased urgency in the system has brought complaints that the Home Office has created a series of injustices .

Under its "new asylum model", rapid decisions are made on most claims for refuge by new arrivals. Few have legal representation at this stage and about 19 out of 20 have their applications rejected. They can appeal, but the odds are stacked against them.

They are only eligible for legal aid if they are considered to have a 50 per cent chance of success, a very high threshold given that their claims have already been thrown out once.

Only about 20 per cent of those who appeal are successful, with the rest joining the vast mass of failed asylum-seekers caught in limbo between rejection and removal. They cannot work, their right to support is strictly limited and immigration officers could come knocking at any time.

The Home Office has offered financial incentives worth up to £3,000 to leave, but the take-up appears to be patchy.

Ministers' hopes that large numbers could be deported to Iraq as peace returned to the country have been dashed by the continuing turmoil.

Immigration officers have had therefore to increase enforced removals, arousing suspicions that they are having to single out the failed asylum-seekers likely to offer the least resistance.

The Prime Minister's target was achieved a few months late in the first quarter of 2006. But the immigration service is struggling to maintain the numbers .

A total of 3,535 failed asylum-seekers and their dependants were deported in the three months to September, a drop of 28 per cent from the 5,070 in the previous quarter.

Meanwhile, Home Office managers have been privately warned that they have illegally removed asylum-seekers and immigrants on several occasions. An internal memo admits that deportations have taken place despite court injunctions being in place blocking them. The document, obtained by The Independent, warns senior managers: "All staff should be made aware that they could personally end up in court facing a charge of contempt."

Anna Reisenberger, acting chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: "The asylum system is unjust from beginning to end. Too many people are refused protection because of poor initial decision-making, an inadequate appeals system and a chronic lack of legal representation.

"In a desperate attempt to increase the numbers of removals, officials go after soft targets."

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