UK Home Office admits whereabouts of more than 17,000 asylum seekers unknown

Figure is more than four times the number recorded the previous year

A police officer stands guard on the beach of Dungeness, on the south-east coast of England, as migrants disembark from a rescue vessel. AFP
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A senior Home Office official admitted to members of the UK Parliament on Wednesday that the department does not know the whereabouts of more than 17,000 asylum seekers whose claims have been withdrawn.

The Commons Home Affairs Committee questioned permanent secretary Sir Matthew Rycroft and his interim second-in-command Simon Ridley about the backlog of asylum claims waiting to be considered by the department amid a race to meet the target set by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to clear some older cases by the end of the year.

Last week, the Home Office published figures showing 17,316 asylum applications had been withdrawn in the year to September.

This is more than four times the number for the previous year, when there were 4,260, the department said.

The Prime Minister made the Home Office responsible for clearing some of the backlog of “legacy” cases – asylum applications made before June 28, 2022 – by the end of December.

Questioning the officials, committee member Tim Loughton asked: “Isn’t it strange that conveniently, when faced with a very stiff target, there has been a three-fold increase [in withdrawals] for undetermined reasons, people magically not going forward with their claims, and where are those people?”

Mr Ridley replied: “In most cases, I don’t know where those people are.”

Asked if they had gone home, Mr Ridley said he did not know.

“So you have no idea where those 17,316 people are?” Mr Loughton asked.

Mr Ridley replied: “I don’t think we know where all those people are, no.”

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He told the committee that a claim was withdrawn when asylum seekers did not turn up for interviews or complete questionnaires and were “not engaging with the system that leads to a decision”.

Other reasons included when someone had already left the UK before their claim was considered or if they chose to pursue another application for permission to stay in the country, according to the department.

Despite the figures being published less than a week ago, Mr Ridley was unable to confirm whether the numbers being quoted were accurate, prompting committee chairwoman Dame Diana Johnson to ask why he was unable to give correct figures.

“I just haven’t got the precise number in front of me,” Mr Ridley replied.

Asylum processing backlog continues to be sticking point

Data published last week showed the backlog of asylum applications – rather than people – stood at 122,585 as of October 29 this year, down 12 per cent from a record 138,782 at the end of February.

The “legacy” backlog of asylum applications stood at 33,253 as of October 29, down nearly a half (47 per cent) from 62,157 on July 30.

To meet the target, about 16,630 applications would need to be cleared per month before December 31.

About 12,620 were cleared between September 24 and October 29, and 9,604 cleared between August 27 and September 24, figures showed.

Asked if ministers were making a “realistic estimate” that the target to clear the legacy backlog would be met by the end of next month, Sir Matthew told MPs: “We have always been confident of that.”

He added that extra resources had been brought in and there was an “increase of productivity” to tackle the backlog.

Asylum seeker children vanish from Brighton hotel

A hotel in Brighton was stripped of its council contract to house lone children earlier this week following London's High Court being told last month that at least 50 minors were unaccounted for.

The number of unaccompanied refugee children who are missing after disappearing from hotels stands at 144, figures obtained by The National show.

Authorities have faced criticism for failing to protect young asylum seekers, many of whom have disappeared, including a child aged 12.

Last month, Kent County Council took legal action against the Home Office over what it claims is the unlawful way in which the government manages the housing of unaccompanied refugee children in Britain.

Stephanie Harrison KC, representing the council, had told the court “50 remain missing” from the hotel where they had been placed by the Home Office.

The Home Office has been using six hotels in the UK to house unaccompanied children who have been rescued from small boats in the English Channel.

More than 5,400 have been housed in hotels since July 2021, a third of whom were under 16.

The Home Office is removing asylum seekers from 50 hotels as part of a bid to reduce the cost of accommodating them.

UK planning to deport failed asylum seekers to Iraq

Iraq could be designated a “safe country” by British immigration chiefs in an attempt to rapidly return failed asylum seekers, it has been reported.

The government wants to add Iraq to the list along with Turkey and Egypt on which those who arrive in Britain via small boats are automatically returned to their home country.

India and Georgia were added earlier this month but Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick has raised the prospect of adding Iraq, Egypt and Turkey.

If the proposal is agreed to, it would mean Iraqis, predominantly Kurds, Turkish and Egyptian asylum seekers deemed to have arrived in the UK illegally, would be sent back to their home countries.

The small boat arrivals from the three countries this year reached almost 4,000, or 20 per cent of those reaching Britain via the English Channel, by the end of August.

In the eight months to August, there were 1,774 migrants from Iraq that made Channel crossings.

About 80 per cent of failed Iraqi asylum seekers were Kurdish, The Sunday Telegraph reported.

There were 2,121 Turkish people arriving in small boats in the same period and 679 people from Egypt, with both countries being “actively considered” for the safe list.

A fast-track deal with Albania has led to hundreds being returned to the Eastern European country this year.

Updated: November 29, 2023, 8:07 PM