New figures show fall in asylum claims

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Figures published today are expected to show a continued fall in the number of new asylum claims.

Figures published today are expected to show a continued fall in the number of new asylum claims.

The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, is issuing asylum data for April, May and June of this year.

In the first three months of this year, Home Office statistics said the number of new applications slid by 20 per cent to 10,585, including dependants such as spouses and children.

Revised and finalised figures for the whole of 2003 - published in provisional form in February - are also due out.

According to these initial figures, asylum applications excluding dependants fell 41 per cent in 2003 to 49,370 compared with 2002, or 61,050 including dependants compared with 103,800 in 2002.

Asylum charities pointed out that despite the fall in numbers there was no indication that the world had become safer, and came as the humanitarian situation in Sudan caused international concern.

The number of applications for asylum in the UK from Sudanese nationals dropped by 30 per cent to only 265 in the first quarter of this year, the Refugee Council's deputy chief executive Margaret Lally said.

"The government must turn its attention to what really matters - its responsibility to provide protection to those who need our help," said Ms Lally.

"We need to make sure that our doors are always open for people who are fleeing persecution, torture or other human rights abuses."

Chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Habib Rahman, said: "The UK's increasingly harsh asylum system, which includes imprisonment of asylum seekers and forcible deportations, may be responsible for driving many asylum seekers underground if they manage to reach this country."

He added: "The fact that millions of people worldwide continue to suffer under repressive regimes, yet do not claim asylum in the UK, is not necessarily a cause for celebration.

"Any fall in asylum applications in the UK would reflect an overall trend among the world's 29 industrialised nations.

"International humanitarian initiatives, to which the UK has contributed, may have helped that reduction."

In May, the Home Office's asylum statistics were criticised by spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO)

Although they said data was broadly accurate, the auditors criticised some aspects of the quarterly asylum figures as "materially misleading".

Figures had missed out up to 24,000 asylum seekers receiving welfare and accommodation funding, they said.

This error would make the real figure receiving support more than 100,000 rather than the 76,245 published total.

The NAO also criticised statistics on the number of asylum seekers being deported as "not always satisfactory".

There was no evidence to confirm removals from the UK had actually taken place in 6 per cent of 48 cases analysed, they found.

The Conservative home affairs spokesman Humfrey Malins said that a small fall in the asylum figures was meaningless.

"This Government has had a chaotic and shambolic policy for the last few years. They are hopelessly inefficient," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"If there are fewer asylum applications in the last quarter, most people believe that that could mean greater numbers of people are still entering the country illegally, because our borders are not secure, and simply not bothering to claim asylum.

"They are going to ground or they are coming in on the hugely chaotic work permit system which needs reform so, in fact, in the Government might be just producing a figure which is meaningless in terms of total illegal immigration."

Liberal Democrat Mark Oaten also dismissed the expected fall in the figures.

"I think that having a target or being obsessed by numbers is just the wrong way to look at this," he told the Today programme.

"For example, I would actually welcome in some circumstances an increase in asylum applications.

"If there was a disaster in Somalia or Iraq, surely we would want to see an increase because it would mean that we were taking people who were fleeing persecution.

"So having this kind of fall may be absolutely meaningless because it could actually be a result of poor information, bad decisions being taken."

Immigration Minister Des Browne said that falling asylum claims reflected the success of measures such the establishment of UK border controls in France and Belgium.

He accused the opposition parties of trying to cast doubt on the figures for political reasons.

"When these asylum figures, prepared in exactly the same way by exactly the same officials and published in exactly the same way, showed about 18 months ago historically high figures of asylum seekers, they were happy to rely upon them," he told the Today programme.

"Now that they are dropping significantly, and have been over the last 18 months, they are no longer reliable figures. Isn't that surprising?"

He added that the independent National Audit Office had found there was "not a jot of evidence" to suggest that people were simply entering the country through other forms of immigration rather than claiming asylum.

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