Government meets pledge to halve asylum applications

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Indy Politics

The Government has met Tony Blair's pledge to halve asylum applications, as figures fell by 52 per cent, the Home Office announced today.

There were 4,225 applications in September, compared with 8,770 in October 2002, the benchmark month before Home Secretary David Blunkett's asylum reforms came into force.

Applications rose 13 per cent to 11,955 in the three months from July to September, but were down from 22,030 year-on-year.

Latest figures followed a significant fall of 34 per cent in the previous quarterly data.

The figures refer to "principal applicants" only, excluding dependants such as spouses and children.

When they were included, the total number arriving in the UK in the three-month period was 14,765, up 18 per cent on the previous quarter.

Figures revealed 3,430 applicants were deported (4,655 including dependants), up 9 per cent on the previous period.

Ministers said they were developing an action plan to deal with applications from Somalia, which rocketed 60 per cent to 1,440 in the quarter. Officials said this reflected increases across the EU.

The statistics showed that immigration officers were refusing more and more applications.

In July to September, 88 per cent initial decisions were refusals, the largest share on record.

In comparison, the average for 2002 was 66 per cent initial refusals.

Mr Blunkett was due to publish a controversial new Bill later today to further crack down on asylum seekers and people traffickers.

Home Office spokesman said progress made over the last year had been "substantial".

Mr Blunkett said: "The measures the Government has put in place over the last few years are bringing about a sustained improvement of the immigration and asylum system.

"The number of applications has halved and is now consistently far below the levels of last year as a result of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act and the historic steps to move UK border controls to France.

"The whole asylum system is now faster and more efficient with 80 per cent of initial decisions made in two months, the backlog down to its lowest for a decade and we have the best ever performance in removals with a record average of 1,500 a month."

Data showed the number of cases awaiting an initial decision was at the lowest for a decade at 29,100.

However, the number of appeals received rose by 1 per cent to 10,900.

The total number of applications for support from the National Asylum Support Service fell 26 per cent to 7,415 - 58 per cent lower than in the same quarter of 2002.

The new Immigration and Asylum Bill will remove one stage of the asylum appeals process and make asylum seekers who deliberately destroy their passports to make unfounded claims liable to jail.

Controversially, it will also allow children of failed asylum seekers to be taken into care if their parents refuse a free flight home.