Blair promises to deport more asylum-seekers

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Tony Blair set the Government a tough target for removing unsuccessful asylum-seekers yesterday as he admitted that the continuing failure to deport many failed applicants was damaging public confidence in the system.

He promised that by the end of next year the number returned to their home countries every month would exceed the total of unfounded applications. The pledge, which the Prime Minister described as a "step change" in the deportation rate, commits ministers, in effect, to double the number of removals. But the target date of December 2005 puts it beyond the likely time of the general election.

Britain received an average of 2,640 asylum applicationsa month between April and June this year, of which about 2,100 were rejected. Over that period more than 1,000 failed applicants a month were expelled.

In 2001 David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, had to abandon an earlier Labour promise to remove 30,000 asylum-seekers annually. The Government is struggling to achieve even half that rate, although the steadily falling numbers of those seeking asylum in Britain may make it easier for ministers to achieve Mr Blair's target.

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "How many other wild promises will the Prime Minister make on asylum ahead of an election, only to abandon them afterwards? Since 1997 over a quarter of a million failed asylum applicants continue to remain in Britain."