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The failings in the UK’s asylum system, by former Home Office immigration chief

Less than half of failed asylum seekers are ever removed from the UK, even after they have exhausted their avenues for appeal, a new Civitas publication reveals today. It shows how, of the 80,813 applications that were refused or withdrawn between 2010 and 2016, only 29,659 individuals were removed.

The pamphlet is written by David Wood, who served as director general of immigration enforcement under Theresa May when she was home secretary. He warns that the asylum system is failing to deal properly with abusive applications from people who are not refugees and have no legal right to be in the UK.

This corrodes public trust in the system and has also led to a growing backlog of cases that have been awaiting an initial decision for more than six months – up from 4,081 in 2010 to 14,306 in 2017. This means that genuine refugees are taking longer to process while the system is overwhelmed by applications from those who turn out to have no valid asylum claim.

The UK asylum system attracts in the region of 10-15,000 applications a year from individuals who ultimately have no valid claim and less than half of these are then subsequently removed.

Between 2010 and 2016, 11,545 applications were refused or withdrawn each year on average, while only 4,237 were removed. That left 51,154 failed asylum seekers in the country from that period alone.

‘Once migrants reach the UK they are usually here to stay whether they have a valid claim to be here or not,’ Wood writes.

‘This means that these numbers add to an ever-growing number of migrants in the country who have no lawful entitlement to be here. Furthermore, the failure to deal with this situation provides an incentive to further attempts to come to the UK by people who have no right to be here.’

The 1951 Refugee Convention enshrines the rights of those seeking refuge from threats to their life or freedom. Equally, the UK’s commitment to the rule of law means that those who are initially refused should be allowed to appeal.

But, Wood argues, more can be done to speed up the processing of applications, and to improve the rate of removal among those that are ultimately refused. They include:

:: Streamlining the initial decision-making process rather than subjecting every applicant to a lengthy interview. Many applicants’ claims can be decided much more quickly than they are: if it can be established that they are Syrian, for example, they will be entitled to asylum and so there is little need to go much further. This would free up more caseworkers’ time to concentrate on the cases that are more difficult to establish.

:: Adopting new lie-detection technology such as Validated Automated Screening Technology which has accuracy rates of up to 90 per cent. This would not be used as primary evidence but to allow interviewers to quickly identify areas of an applicants story that is questionable. This may allow for very quick positive decisions, resource savings and reduced trauma for genuine applicants.

:: Speeding up the appeals process, possibly through the re-introduction of Detained Fast Track, under which those whose claims are deemed highly unlikely to succeed are detained and their cases expedited in a short period of time. This was scrapped after a Court of Appeal decision in 2015 that too little time was being taken in the prepartion of cases, but there is still the possibility of its reintroduction with better safeguards.

:: Detaining more of those whose applications are refused at the end of an appeals process and for whom it is expected travel documents can be obtained from the applicant’s home nation. Many abscond between the rejection of their appeal and the Home Office obtaining the necessary travel documents.

:: Challenging nations that currently refuse to provide travel documents for their nationals, by simply putting them on a flight to that country and having them met at the other end by the UK representative in the country. This would be controversial but it is a tactic used by some countries already and would make clear that the UK would not be left with individuals simply because their home nation refuses to provide documentation.

Wood writes: ‘It is an important principle that people fleeing persecution should be given refuge by countries in a position to offer it. But where asylum processes are being used as a way of facilitating economic migration it is essential to be able to quickly and efficiently distinguish between the two, in order to ensure those entitled to help receive it quickly, and to ensure that UK citizens do not lose faith and support for a system that is rife with abuse.

‘It ought to be possible to do better in enforcing immigration rules than we have been doing, and that must start with a better understanding of the challenges we face.’


Controlling Britain’s Borders: The challenge of enforcing the UK’s immigration rules

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