We don’t know where 17,000 rejected asylum seekers are, says Home Office deputy

Simon Ridley
Simon Ridley said: ‘In most cases, I don’t know where those people are’

Home Office mandarins have admitted that as many as 17,000 rejected asylum seekers are missing.

Simon Ridley, a senior civil servant, told MPs he did not know the whereabouts of most of the 17,316 asylum applicants whose cases have been withdrawn in the past year.

Mr Ridley, the second in command at the Home Office, was being questioned with his boss Sir Matthew Rycroft, the permanent secretary, over a quadrupling in the number of withdrawn asylum applications from 4,260 in the previous year.

The surge has led to claims they are being wiped off the list without being fully assessed to help meet Rishi Sunak’s target of clearing the “legacy” backlog of asylum cases older than June 2022 by the end of this year.

Reasons include failing to attend interviews or appointments and not filling in new fast-track questionnaires.

Once removed from the system, people are ineligible for the housing and financial support offered to destitute asylum seekers, with MPs including Tories warning that they can then “disappear without a trace”.

Questioning the officials, Tim Loughton, a Commons home affairs committee member, 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 whether they had returned to their home countries, he said: “I don’t know.”

Mr Loughton again asked: “So you have no idea where those 17,316 people are?” Mr Ridley replied: “I don’t think we know where all those people are, no.”

He told the committee that a claim was withdrawn when asylum seekers did not turn up for interviews or complete questionnaires and were “not engaging with the system that leads to a decision”.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

Mr Ridley later said there were records enabling Home Office immigration officers to take enforcement action against withdrawn asylum seekers to bring people in and remove them from the UK.

Data last week showed the backlog of asylum applications, rather than individuals, stood at 122,585 as of Oct 29, 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 Oct 29, down 47 per cent from 62,157 on July 30. To meet the target, around 16,630 applications would need to be cleared per month before Dec 31.

Sir Matthew has admitted that the Home Office does not have a “Plan B” if the Government fails to get its Rwanda policy off the ground.

He said civil servants were doing “all sorts of contingency planning” but he said he would not call in a Plan B as ministers had not agreed such a scheme.

Meanwhile, research by the Refugee Council, based on 40 asylum organisations, found that Channel migrants were likely to make more dangerous journeys to more remote beaches if the Rwanda scheme went ahead in order to avoid detection.

Asylum seekers supported by the organisations were also said to be already more afraid to engage with official services and would be driven “underground”, raising fears that they could suffer harm and exploitation.

Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “We know refugees are avoiding contact with vital services and face being exploited and abused by those seeking to coerce and traffic them.

“We are very worried about the prospect of Channel crossings becoming even riskier, when we know all too well how deadly they already are.”