The Refugee Council said yesterday that record numbers of asylum applications being processed had coincided with an increase in the proportion of asylum-seekers being refused.
The Home Office announced yesterday that 11,340 applications for asylum were dealt with last month, four times the rate of decisions taken at the end of last year.
The large number of cases dealt with means that the asylum backlog has fallen to below 100,000 for the first time this year, now standing at 98,365. But of the decisions made, 81 per cent had their applications refused. Nineteen per cent were accepted as refugees or given "exceptional leave" to stay in the country. In the same period last year, 76 per cent of applicants were refused, falling to just 20 per cent last April, at the height of the Kosovan airlift.
A spokeswoman for the Refugee Council said yesterday: "The fact that the refusal rate has increased is an issue of concern for us because these are people coming from similar countries as were coming last year when more were being accepted."
The largest number of new asylum applicants come fromYugoslavia - Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia - followed by Sri Lanka, China, Afghanistan and Somalia.
The Refugee Council admitted that the increased number of decisions - up from 7,865 applications dealt with in February - was otherwise a good sign and appeared to support claims from the Home Secretary that the Government's efforts to speed up the asylum system were working. The Immigration and Nationality Directorate has taken on scores of extra caseworkers to deal with applications.
Yesterday's figures showed that there was no let-up in the numbers of people seeking asylum in Britain. There were 6,680 applications for asylum in March, up from 6,110 in February.
The shadow Home Secretary, Ann Widdecombe, said: "It is still going to take years to clear the backlog of asylum applications and in the meantime more and more applications come in.
"Applications received over the past three months are up 36 per cent on the monthly average for the same period last year. This shows the Government is failing to tackle Britain's image of being a soft touch."
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