'400,000 enter UK illegally every year'

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Up to 400,000 people may be entering Britain illegally each year, according to a report from a right-wing think-tank, the Centre for Policy Studies. It says the Government has "lost control" of immigration.

A "black hole" at the centre of the UK's immigration and asylum system means the authorities have no idea how many people enter Britain illegally. Official figures could hugely underestimate the number.

Plans to adopt a green card-style system, whereby skilled workers are given residence permits, implies immigration can be turned on and off like a tap. But, according to the report, "in fact, the tap for people prepared to enter the UK illegally has long since rusted into the open position, as a look at every stage of the asylum process reveals".

Instead, the report suggests, a quota should be adopted putting a limit on the number of asylum-seekers admitted each year. Admission could then be decided on a first-come, first-served basis or in response to crises abroad.

The publication, Welcome to the Asylum, pours scorn on the attempts of successive Home Office ministers to bring the situation under control during the 1990s, when the backlog of cases awaiting processing peaked at 100,000.

It says the Government's flagship reception centre at Oakington army barracks in Cambridgeshire is an "utter failure". The system of appeals allows people to leave it and are "free to melt into society".

"The Government has lost control," it concludes. "No one knows how many arrive here each year. No one knows how they get here or where they go when they arrive. And no one knows how many rejected asylum applicants are still illegally resident in the UK."