More than half of failed asylum seekers remain in the UK despite having their applications rejected or withdrawn, a new study claims.
The study by David Wood, ex-director general of immigration enforcement at the Home Office, said fewer than half of those whose asylum applications are declined are removed from the UK, and that abuse of the system is rife.
The UK asylum system attracts around 10,000-15,000 applications a year from individuals who ultimately have no valid claim – and under half of these are subsequently removed from the country, according to Mr Wood’s report.
It said: “The truth is that while there are thousands of genuine claims for asylum each year, thousands more are abusive applications.”
According to the report, published by think-tank Civitas, enforced removals and voluntary departures of failed asylum seekers have fallen from more than 15,000 annually in the mid-2000s to fewer than 5,000 a year recently.
It said: “Of the 80,813 applications refused or withdrawn between 2010 and 2016, only 29,659 were removed – leaving 51,154 failed asylum seekers in the country from that seven-year period alone.”
‘Methods of deception’ including “nationality swapping”, where an asylum seeker claims they are from a certain country to boost their chances of success, or applicants claiming to be under 18 when they are older.
It said many asylum claims are submitted when individuals are about to depart the UK, such as at the airport or on a plane, and a key difficulty in many removals is the absence of travel documents, which are often lost or destroyed prior to arrival in the UK.
The report, which comes days after Home Secretary Sajid Javid questioned whether migrants using small boats to cross the English Channel are genuine asylum seekers, said a myth is perpetuated in many countries that “the streets of the UK are paved with gold”.
It warned that abuse of the system risks undermining “well-placed sympathy” for refugees.
“It is an important principle that people fleeing persecution should be given refuge by countries in a position to offer it,” it said.
“But where asylum processes are being used as a way of facilitating economic migration it is essential to be able to quickly and efficiently distinguish between the two, in order to ensure those entitled to help receive it quickly, and to ensure that UK citizens do not lose faith and support for a system that is rife with abuse.”
Recommendations in Mr Wood’s report include adopting new screening technology to allow interviewers to identify “questionable areas” in applications and he called on the Government to step up efforts to challenge countries that refuse to provide travel documents for their nationals.
He also suggested the removals rate could be improved by detaining more of those who, at the end of an appeals process, are refused asylum and for whom it is known that papers could be secured.
A Home Office spokesman said:”The UK has a proud history of providing protection to those who need it.
“However, we are clear that those with no right to be in the UK should return home.
“As part of the new asylum accommodation contracts we will be working with a charity to make sure failed asylum seekers are given information on the voluntary returns scheme, encouraging individuals refused asylum to return home.
“We will seek to enforce the return of those who do not leave voluntarily. Since the beginning of 2010 there have been over 345,000 enforced or voluntary returns.”