tough measures introduced by the government including legislation and
border controls in France, the Home Secretary announced today.
applications per month from a peak in October 2002 before the
Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act came into force. The
downward trend was continued in the last three months of the year,
with a 52 per cent drop compared with the same period in 2002.
In 2003 as a whole, following a surge in applications before tougher
benefits rules came into force, applications fell by 41 per cent -
four times as much as the average across the rest of the EU. As a
result of the significant fall in numbers, applications for state
support had fallen by 60 per cent in the last three months of 2003
compared with the same period in 2002.
The home secretary said that a series of steps was being taken to
maintain the momentum and build on the record 23 per cent increase in
the number of removals in 2003:
* a new 330 capacity removal centre near Heathrow will open in
* the UK is the first country to reach agreement with the Coalition
Provisional Authority in Iraq to begin returning failed asylum
seekers from April, including both voluntary and enforced returns;
* we are working closely with the Chinese government to increase
urgently the number of returns we are able to effect to China;
* the government is also considering whether to extend the use of
biometrics in visas or on entry to the UK to countries that refuse
to co-operate on returns;
* action to tackle fraudulent claims from Somalia, including
agreement to begin to return people to Somaliland and arrangements
for identifying Somalis with permission to live elsewhere in the EU
(laid in parliament yesterday);
* the UK expects to sign an agreement soon with the Belgian
authorities to extend the use of UK immigration controls to the
Brussels Eurostar Service, to prevent illegal entry to the UK in the
The Immigration and Nationality Department (IND) is also reviewing
its enforcement activities as part of an ongoing process of
improvement in order to develop the coverage and focus of its
enforcement effort, assess priorities and how increased resources
have been deployed, and how the Immigration Service can work most
effectively with other agencies.
Mr Blunkett said:
'These figures show the very significant progress that has been made
in dramatically reducing the number of asylum seekers entering the UK
last year as a result of the tough reforms we have put in place.
Following a surge in applications before new benefits rules came into
force in January 2003, the monthly rate has been halved. This trend
was continued in the last three months of the year with a drop of 52
per cent compared with the end of 2002. For the year as a whole, the
numbers are down by 41 per cent.
'The backlog is the lowest for a decade, claims are falling four
times as fast as elsewhere in Europe and around 80 per cent of
decisions on new cases are made within two months. The number of
failed asylum seekers removed has also increased by 23 per cent.
This has not been easy.
'When the majority of asylum seekers destroy their documentation,
removing them presents us with a major challenge - we cannot adopt a
fantasy policy of parachuting people out of planes.
'Instead, we are systematically working to overcome the barriers. We
are the first country in Europe to negotiate a returns agreement with
Iraq, India and Sri Lanka and we have reached agreement to enable the
return of a small number of people to Somaliland. Sometimes the
numbers returned are low to begin with, but our evidence shows that
even a small number of returns deters others from travelling to the
'The highest number of applications in 2003 were from Somalia. This
is a country that has suffered a good deal and we know that there are
some Somali refugees seeking sanctuary here for good reason. But
there is also evidence that some Somalis with permission to live in
other EU countries are then also claiming asylum in the UK. This is
'In addition to the agreement on returns to Somaliland, the
Immigration Service will be targeting people of Somali origin at
ports in order to establish the full extent of this problem and
prevent further asylum abuse. We are will also be checking the
fingerprints of all asylum applicants from Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia
and Turkey against other EU countries' own fingerprint databases in
addition to our shared database, Eurodac.
'The progress we are making will soon begin to bring down the costs
of asylum support - the last three months of 2003 show applications
for support down 60 per cent compared with this time last year.
However, a small increase in capital costs this year has been
necessary to increase detention capacity for the new removal centre
at Heathrow and to enhance border controls.'
The Spring Supplementary Estimate, published today, includes the IND
budget for 2003/04 of£2bn in total. This includes an increase
in capital spending costs for measures including new immigration
controls in France and a new removal centre near Heathrow.
The key findings from Asylum Statistics 2003 are:
* applications fell by nine per cent in the last three months of 2003
compared with the previous quarter (from 11,955 to 10,830), and by 52
per cent compared with the last quarter of 2002;
* the number of asylum seekers has fallen by 41 per cent year on year
from 84,130 (103,080 including dependants) in 2002 to 49,370 in 2003
(61,050 including dependants);
* applications to the UK fell four times as much as the average of 11
per cent in the rest of the EU;
* the number of cases awaiting an initial decision fell throughout
2003 to 24,500 by December - the lowest for a decade;
* in 2003, six per cent of decisions granted asylum, 11 per cent
granted some other form of leave to remain and eighty three per cent
of claims were refused. Of those who appealed, 20 per cent were
granted some form of leave at the first stage of appeal;
* removals of failed asylum seekers increased in 2003 by 23 per cent
to record levels of 12,490 (17,040 including dependants) from 13,910
including dependants in 2002;
* by the end of 2003 the number of asylum seekers receiving NASS
support had fallen by 13 per cent to 80,120, and in the last three
months of 2003 the number of new applications for support was 60 per
cent less than at the same time last year.
The additional measures being taken are:
Colnbrook removal centre to open in August 2004
The new removal centre near Heathrow, together with the refurbished
Harmondsworth, will expand the amount of detention space available to
more than 2,700 places by the end of the year. The Home Office is
also looking to expand space at Campsfield House. Colnbrook will
accommodate about 330 single males.
Enforced returns to Iraq to begin in Spring
The UK will be the first European country to begin enforced returns
of failed Iraqi asylum seekers in the spring. The pilot will allow
30 per month to be returned initially. The returns programme will be
linked to a package of assistance with accommodation and employment,
and will operate alongside a voluntary returns programme. The UK is
also providing significant support in Iraq to develop the Iraqi
New pressure on China to improve the process for returns
A recent secondment of Chinese officials to the Immigration Service
has resulted in more than 60 documents being issued for the return of
Chinese nationals and the Government is grateful for the cooperation
of the Chinese governme nt in assisting with this exercise.
However, the government is now looking urgently at ways of increasing
substantially the numbers we are able to return to China -
particularly those who refuse to co-operate with the redocumentation
process. The home secretary raised this with some of his European
counterparts at a meeting with interior ministers of the major EU
countries last week. The prime minister will also discuss this with
the Chinese premier during his forthcoming visit to the UK.
Additional measures to tackle fraudulent asylum claims
Additional fingerprint checks will be conducted against the records
of other countries for asylum seekers from the top five countries
identified as having already lodged asylum claims or holding other
status elsewhere. The Immigration Service will also target people of
Somali origin at ports for a trial period to establish a better
evidence base about routes and methods of entry to the UK. A new
returns agreement to Somaliland will enable initially small numbers
of Somalis to begin to be returned.
The Home Office is also looking at how new technology might help to
further increase the effectiveness of immigration controls.
The Asylum & Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc) Bill,
currently before Parliament, includes measures to overcome some of
the barriers to removals, including:
* penalties of up to two years for those who destroy their documents
or will not co-operate with the authorities to get new travel
documents when their claims fail;
* simplifying the appeals process to stop people lodging multiple,
groundless appeals solely to frustrate removal; and
* encouraging voluntary removal by ending benefits for families whose
claims have failed and who persistently refuse to take up the offer
of a paid, flight home.
The 2003-04 budget for IND contained in the Winter Supplementary
Estimate was£1.783bn, (£1.725bn resource bu dget and£58m capital budget). Increases approved in the spring
supplementary increase the IND budget by£217m (£171m
resource and£46m capital), to produce revised budgets for
2003-04 of£2bn (£1.896bn resource and£104m
The revised resource budget, which includes spending on support, has
risen by 1.8 per cent, a one per cent cut in real terms after
allowing for inflation. Costs for support are projected to begin to
fall now that applications are dropping.
Capital spending includes investment in expanding detention capacity
and putting UK immigration controls in France.