Getting to grips with asylum removals

Over the last two weeks we have seen a large number of reports and articles critical of the asylum system.

Jill Rutter works for an organisation supporting refugees and migrants and is an associate fellow of the Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr); she writes here in a personal capacity

Over the last two weeks we have seen a large number of reports and articles critical of the asylum system. The Independent Inspector of the UK Border Agency highlighted the growing backlog of unprocessed asylum claims in a report published at the end of February.

His report was followed by Nuala O’Loan’s investigation into allegations of the abuse of asylum-seekers held in detention or in the process of removal from the UK. Yesterday the media reported that the costs of supporting asylum-seekers – who are not permitted to work – had risen by 1,700 per cent over the last five years.

All these reports point to an asylum system vulnerable to misadministration and crisis. There have been some improvements in the processing of asylum claims over the last ten years – the time it takes for an initial decision on an asylum case has fallen from 22 months in 1997 to seven months in 2009. An inspectorate for the UK Border Agency and greater commitment to the integration of those allowed to remain in the UK are other changes for the better.

Nevertheless, the asylum system remains flawed and prone to backlogs. It is high time progressives took an honest look at asylum in the UK. Yet a tabloid media hostile to asylum-seekers, coupled with a powerful refugee lobby have prevented a root and branch examination of the treatment of refugees.

The latest media articles, drawn from Home Office statistics, point to a reduction in the numbers of ‘failed’ asylum-seekers who are removed from the UK and a huge increase in the cost of supporting them. In 2009, some 26,832 removal notices were issued to failed asylum-seekers, yet only 7,850 persons from this group were removed from the UK.

Many of those who are not removed from the UK receive food vouchers and basic accommodation from the UK Border Agency, a type of sustenance known as Section Four support. Ministers are very concerned by the rising costs of Section Four support.

However, an in-depth analysis of Home Office asylum statistics shows why such small proportions of failed asylum-seekers end up being removed from the UK and why the costs of Section Four support have rocketed. In 2009, some 17,805 asylum-seekers – about 73 per cent of all applicants – received an initial negative decision in the UK. Of those refusals 4,150 were from Zimbabwe and 1,080 were from Sri Lanka. Yet government has suspended removals to these countries because it acknowledges that Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka are too unstable for the return of asylum-seekers.

Some 1,070 Iraqis and 585 Somalis were refused asylum in 2009. While the UK will return them, organising flights and onward transport in these countries is logistically challenging and expensive. Failed asylum-seekers from countries such as Zimbabwe and Somalia are kept in limbo: their applications have been refused, yet we cannot send them back. It is an inhumane and costly trap. A progressive asylum policy would allow those who we cannot remove from the UK to remain here, work and contribute to their new communities.

Our government does remove those who have overstayed their permission to remain in the UK, a group that includes failed asylum-seekers. At present there are weekly charter flights to countries such as Nigeria and Afghanistan.

Frontex, the EU external borders agency, will soon be taking responsibility for chartering and coordinating removal flights. Yet progressives have given very little consideration to removals policy. Honest debate about this issue is often heavily suppressed by the open borders movement, groups and individuals who often have links with the left.

We need to get to grips with removals policy. We need to acknowledge that there are some people whose removal is practically impossible – they should be allowed to stay in the UK. We also need to confront other questions. How do we deal with those who physically resist removal? How can the activities of Frontex be made transparent and accountable? Should we have independent human rights monitors on charter flights, as some EU countries do? How do we monitor the safety of those returned to their home countries?

Above all, we need safeguards at our external borders, as many would be asylum-seekers do not make to European territory and are turned back at our external borders.

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7 Responses to “Getting to grips with asylum removals”

  1. Duncan Stott

    RT @leftfootfwd: Getting to grips with asylum removals: – interesting statistics

  2. Duncan Stott

    It is completely unfair to say that open borders advocates (like myself) suppress honest debate.

    We want as much light shone onto the inhumane treatment of failed asylum seekers as possible. That is the real problem: a lack of media attention on how the government is treating these people.

    You disagree with our solution to the (invented) problems you describe. Please, put forward some solutions of your own (you didn’t do in this article). We can then debate your ideas on their merits. Hey, you may even win people over.

    But from my perspective, the only way I can think of to solve all the problems with deporting people is to stop deporting people.

  3. tim finch Head of Migration ippr

    Jill – who is of course an old colleague of mine – is dead right that criticising the government in the strongest terms for the inhumanity and injustices in the asylum process should not lead us to conclude that all removals are wrong.
    Indeed if a progressive government is to gain support from the wider public for a more generous and humane asylum system it needs to be able to show that those people who – after a fair hearing – are found not to
    need protection are being removed from the country in greater numbers (and with greater efficiency) than at present. As long, of course – and Jill makes the point – that it is safe and sustainable to do so.
    The principle of being able to seek protection in another country when you are in danger in your own is precious – and should be defended at all costs. But people like Duncan, who purport to stand up for asylum seekers, are undermining that precious principle. If no one can ever be deported then we end up with – de facto – ‘claim asylum,get asylum’ which renders the concept meaningless. Asylum must be for those who need it, not for those who don’t. If it just becomes a way to get into the UK with no chance of being send back then we will soon find that public and political pressure to end refugee protection grows.

  4. Duncan Stott

    I purport to stand up for failed asylum seekers. For fellow human beings who are judged unworthy of the chance to build a stable life that the rest of us take for granted. For fellow human beings who are judged unworthy on the arbitrary basis of birth location.

    So I guess you’re right: I want to undermine the principle that some people’s awful circumstances are judged to be worthy of sanctuary, but other people’s awful circumstances are not. I do want to render that concept meaningless. Who are we to tell our fellow man that they aren’t entitled to the same things we take for granted?

    The second point of your argument is about political expediency: selling a concept to the public. Why do you think the public will buy your changes? I doubt that those who wish to restrict asylum will ever be satisfied.

    Look at immigration: Labour have clearly brought in much tougher border controls over the last few years. Are MigrationWatch et al satisfied? No. They’ll call for more and more restrictions until the borders are closed.

    When the tabloids got themselves into a frenzy over the asylum figures in the early 2000’s, were they worried about the sheer number of cases that were granted… nothing to do with the nature of deportations.

    The idea that the public will be supportive of asylum if deportations are more efficient lacks any evidence.

  5. alllowercase

    it’s the age old problem. Yes wouldn’t be marvellous if we all had open borders. All citizens of the world would be free to live where and how they wish, war would be permanently ended, no-one would ever go hungry, there’d be kidney machines on every street corner and lollipops for every child who fell down and scraped her knee.

    Or perhaps we could acknowledge that (for very good evolutionary reasons) humans are naturally selfish and will not share in-group wealth with out-group people they don’t know.

    You will never win the argument here. There will not be open borders until there is no need to for economic migration. There will economic migration for as long as the world is unequally wealthy, and the end of that is hundreds of years off.

    Espousing this cause is a political dead-end and just gives the right a bloody big stick to beat us with.


  6. International removals

    The main point of your argument is about political expediency, selling a concept to the public.Why do you think the public will buy your changes and I doubt that those who wish to restrict asylum will ever be satisfied.and thanks for posting this informative blog.

  7. real money slots

    The latest media articles,drawn from Home Office statistics, point to a reduction in the numbers of failed asylum seekers who are removed from the UK and a huge increase in the cost of supporting them.thanks for posting this informative article.

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