Dramatic fall in number of asylum-seekers since 2002

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The Independent Online

The number of people arriving in Britain and claiming asylum dropped sharply last year, but the Government is still struggling to remove rejected applicants.

The number of people arriving in Britain and claiming asylum dropped sharply last year, but the Government is still struggling to remove rejected applicants.

Last year, 40,200 people, including dependants, claimed refuge, down from a peak of more than 110,000 two years earlier, Home Office statistics show. Asylum-seekers are arriving at a rate of just over 2,800 a month, compared with 7,600 at their peak in 2002. Iranians are now by far the largest national group claiming refuge in Britain.

Ministers, who hailed the fall as dramatic, will hope that the downward trend will take the sting out of asylum as an election issue.

The figures were clouded by an admission that the number of failed claimants deported is falling. In the final quarter of last year, 2,895 were removed, a fall of 6 per cent on the previous three months. The Government is facing a daunting task to meet its pledge by the end of 2005 to remove more unfounded asylum-seekers than arrive. Critics also pointed to figures showing that 133,000 people from the eight new EU members have registered for work since the EU expanded on 1 May. The figure is well above Government forecasts. A total of 181,432 work permits were issued in 2004, a rise of 14,464 on the previous year.

Des Browne, the Immigration minister, said asylum applications were falling at twice the rate of the rest of Europe, but he admitted: "Removals must be stepped up."

Habib Rahman, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: "The sharp drop shows how wild the claims made by some groups and political parties about asylum-seekers really are. We hope the public will take note."

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