MPs slam ‘open door’ treatment of asylum seekers

The failing Government agency charged with protecting Britain’s borders has let so many asylum seekers remain in the country that it amounts to an “amnesty”, MPs say.

Officials at the UK Border Agency have turned down only one in 11 claims since they began clearing a backlog of 450,000 cases which had been building up from the late 1990s.

Forty per cent of cases have led to the asylum seeker being allowed to stay in the UK, according to a report by the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee which accuses the agency of failing to control immigration.

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Almost 75,000 asylum seekers – one in six – have had their cases concluded simply because “the applicants cannot be found and it is unknown whether they are in the UK, have left the country or are dead”.

The committee also raised “grave doubts” about whether the agency was able to carry out all necessary checks on skilled foreign workers and the employers registered as sponsoring them.

Border officials have not carried out checks on all registered employers and do not systematically follow up tip-offs about illegal immigrants, the MPs added.

The Government is pinning its hopes on an “E-borders” electronic system timetabled to collect data on all passengers entering and leaving the UK on planes, ferries and trains by March 2014.

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But the committee found the project was running well behind schedule and noted that the agency was pursuing a claim against previous IT contractor Raytheon, which received £188m of taxpayers’ money for running the service before it was dismissed by the Home Office for contract breaches last year.

Committee chairman Keith Vaz said: “Though progress has been made, it is clear that the UK Border Agency is still not fit for purpose.

“While there is no doubt that individual caseworkers are dedicated and hard-working, there are serious concerns over the agency’s ability to deal with cases and respond to intelligence swiftly and thoroughly.

“The Government is set on reducing immigration to the tens of thousands and effectively controlling immigration.

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“It will have to ensure that the UK Border Agency begins to focus on the outcome rather than the processes of their work.”

Mr Vaz added that it was “disappointing” that the agency remained without a permanent head five months after its previous chief executive Lin Turner left for the Department of Transport.

The committee has criticised the agency before.

In their last report, MPs complained that they were sent letters which had been signed off only by junior officials.

Immigration Minister Damian Green rejected the suggestion that there was an amnesty for asylum seekers and said the Government was overhauling an “uncontrolled immigration system” it had inherited from Labour.

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Opening a new immigration removal centre at the former Morton Hall prison in Swinderby, Lincolnshire, he said: “What we’ve done is get through to the bottom of that huge problem we inherited.

“The main thing is we’ve now eliminated this backlog from the system so we can now get on with the everyday job that the previous government couldn’t because they had that backlog.”

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the independent think tank Migration Watch UK, said: “The removal of those people who overstay their visas and no longer have the right to be in the country is absolutely essential to the credibility of the whole system.

“This report suggests that the removal effort is much too feeble and is giving the green light to illegal immigrants.”