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RELIABILITY OF ASYLUM STATISTICS CONFIRMED - LATEST FIGURES SHOW CONTINUED FALL

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An independent report has found that the government's asylum ...
An independent report has found that the government's asylum

statistics are broadly reliable, while the latest figures published

today show asylum applications continuing to fall.

The National Audit Office agreed to carry out this work in response

to the government's request in April. Its report also shows that

there is no clear statistical evidence that the reduction in the

number of asylum applications has had any significant impact on other

forms of migration.

The Home Office published the latest quarterly asylum statistics

today. They show that in the first three months of this year

applications continued to fall, with a reduction of 20 per cent on

the previous quarter. The reduction comes on top of previous

substantial reductions which have brought the number of asylum

applications down by more than 60 per cent since October 2002.

Key figures in the bulletin include:

* The number of asylum applicants, including dependants, has dropped

by 20 per cent from the previous quarter to 10,585.

* The number of applications, not including dependants, has dropped

by 17 per cent to 8,940, down by 44 per cent on the same quarter last

year.

* The number of cases awaiting an initial decision is the lowest for

a decade at 18,100, and halved from 36,300 a year ago. Eighty per

cent of initial decisions on new cases are being made within two

months.

* The number of failed asylum seekers removed increased by one per

cent in the last quarter to 3,320, 27 per cent more than the same

quarter last year (4,085 removals including dependants).

Home Office minister Des Browne said: 'I am pleased that the NAO has

confirmed that the government's asylum statistics are reliable and

that there is no clear statistical evidence to suggest that the

reduction in asylum claims has been achieved by people coming through

other immigration categories.

'We welcome the NAO's recommendations on how we can improv e the

statistics and will look closely at them.

'The government has dramatically cut asylum applications, and the

latest figures show that we are continuing to make progress in

cutting the numbers of those who seek to abuse the system - indeed

the number of applications in the whole of the last quarter is almost

the same as the number we had in just one month in October 2002

before the NIA Act came into force.

'This fall is a result of a raft of government measures, including

ending in-country appeals for nationals of safe countries, bringing

in new visa regimes, closing Sangatte and rolling out detection

technology and UK immigration controls along the north European

coast.

'We are also making progress on removals - more than 17,000 failed

asylum seekers and dependants in the past year - but there is still

more to be done. We are pushing ahead with reforms in the Asylum and

Immigration Bill to make it easier to remove people who have no legal

right to be in this country, and are continuing our discussions with

foreign governments.

'Crucially, the NAO report states that there is no clear statistical

evidence that the reduction in the number of asylum applications has

had any significant impact on other forms of migration. Let's be

clear - we need legal migrants who want to work, pay taxes and

contribute to our economy. I hope this report will now enable the

debate to move on and allow sensible discussion of the issues.'

The NAO report makes twelve recommendations to the Home Office

including:

* include in asylum statistics the number of people who continue to

occupy NASS-funded accommodation whose right to receive support has

ceased;

* include in asylum statistics the number of asylum seekers living in

local authority accommodation but funded by the Home Office; and

* complete, as a priority, its review of methods that could be

applied in this country to estimate the number of illegal immigrants

in the UK.

The asylum statistics also show:

* the top nationalities in the latest quarter were from Somalia,

Iran, China, Zimbabwe and Turkey;

* during 2003/4 the number of applicants from Somalia fell by 32 per

cent, from China by 15 per cent, from Zimbabwe by 62 per cent and

from Iraq by 84 per cent. Applications from Iran rose by nine per

cent;

* there were 7,425 applications for NASS support, six per cent higher

than the previous quarter, but less than half of the level in the

same quarter last year; and

* in 2003/4 there were 31,810 applications for support, compared to

70,185 in the previous year.

The Home Office is also publishing today a bulletin of those people

granted British citizenship in 2003 which shows that applications for

citizenship rose by 21 per cent last year to 139,315. The number of

people granted citizenship rose by three per cent to 124,315 and

approximately 61 per cent of people born overseas who had been in the

UK for six years or more in 2002 were British citizens.

Mr Browne added: 'We want to encourage people who have made this

country their home to take up British citizenship and play a full

part in their community. Last year we introduced new citizenship

ceremonies to make the process of becoming a British citizen much

more of a celebration of a very significant event in someone's life.

I am pleased that increasing numbers of people want to apply to

become citizens.'

Notes:

1. The home secretary announced on 6 April 2004 that the government

had asked the NAO to audit the quarterly asylum statistics published

by the Home Office. The report's terms of reference were to:

* Assess the data reliability of the quarterly asylum statistics

released by the Home Office.

* Assess whether the process for compiling those statistics is in

line with the guidelines and standards of the Office of National

Statistics for compiling National Statistics.

* Make recommendations for tackling any weaknesses the audit may

reveal.

* On the basis of the statistical evidence, consider whether recent

changes in the number of asylum applications have had any significant

impact on other forms ofmigration.

* Publish an initial report alongside the release of the next

quarterly asylum statistics.

1. The full National Audit Office report is available at

www.nao.org.uk

2. The asylum statistics for the first quarter of 2004 are available

here.

3. The Citizenship bulletin for 2003 is available here.

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