Parliamentary watchdog blasts Britain's asylum 'amnesty'

2nd June 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain's bid to clear its huge backlog of asylum claims has seen so many people allowed to stay it effectively amounts to an amnesty, a parliamentary investigation found Thursday.

Prime Minister David Cameron's government took office in May 2010 vowing to sort out the giant backlog in asylum cases.

Immigration is a sensitive topic in Britain, regularly featuring high in opinion polls of voter concerns.

Some 403,500 cases of the 450,000 in the backlog have been concluded, with 38,000 people (nine percent) having had their claims rejected and been removed from Britain.

But 161,000 (40 percent) of the cases concluded by the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA) led to the asylum seeker being allowed to stay.

This is "such a large proportion that it amounts in effect to an amnesty" said the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, a scrutiny panel of lawmakers.

Some 74,500 asylum seekers 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 net result is that a very large number of people remain in the UK who either have no right to be here or who would have been removed had their cases been dealt with in a timely manner."

To clear the backlog, officials were allowed to consider granting leave to remain to applicants who had been in Britain for six to eight years, as opposed to 10-12 years previously.

And in one in six cases, the UKBA has been completely unable to find out what had happened to the applicant, the committee said.

"We consider this indefensible.

"Moreover, public confidence in immigration controls is severely undermined by such situations."

Immigration Minister Damian Green insisted there was "absolutely no amnesty" for asylum seekers.

"The asylum system we inherited was chaotic," he said, with some cases dating back more than a decade.

"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," he said.

In a keynote speech on immigration in April, Cameron said that Britain had seen its largest ever population influx under the Labour governments of premiers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Net immigration was at 2.2 million between 1997 and 2009.

He vowed to root out abuse of the system and get Britain's borders "under control" to take immigration off the agenda.

© 2011 AFP

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