63. The Home Office does not know how many people refused
asylum leave of their own accord.
Consequently, the Home Secretary does not know how many failed
asylum seekers remain in the country without having been given
exceptional leave to remain.
In recent years, however, only a small proportion of those who
have entered the country illegally and those who have been refused
asylum have actually been removed from the country. In the decade
1990-99 the UK accepted 12.1% of asylum applicants as genuine
refugees, compared with an EU average of 11.1% and a world-wide
average of 15%. In 1999 enforcement action was taken against 22,880
people and 6,410 left the country.
(The people who actually left in 1999 may well have arrived -
and the decisions in their cases may have been taken - in earlier
years.) Also in 1999, 10,685 people were refused asylum and 2,760
people who had been refused asylum (either in that year or earlier)
were recorded as leaving the country. Details of asylum applications,
decisions and removal are set out in charts H and I (after paragraph
64. The Immigration Service is planning a 50% increase in
the number of illegal entrants deported this year - from 8,000
to 12,000. In the
six months to 30 September 2000, 4,870 failed asylum seekers were
removed - making a total of 7,610 in the first ten months of 2000.
Its Service Delivery Agreement for the coming three years envisages
a substantial expansion:
- increase the proportion of failed asylum seekers removed,
by removing 30,000 failed asylum seekers in 2001/02; 33,000 in
2002/03; and 37,000 in 2003/04
- increase the number of non asylum offenders removed, to 3,600
in 2001/02; 3,800 in 2002/03; and 4,000 in 2003/04.
- ensure a detention capacity of 2,200 detention places by March
2004 (increased from 890 in June 2000).
65. The new reception centre opened at Oakington near Cambridge
on 20 March 2000. It has the capacity to detain 400 asylum-seekers
at one time and to deal with up to 13,000 cases a year. Legal
advice is available on site from voluntary agencies. Applications
are decided within seven days, with appeals handled within three
weeks. The Home Secretary told us that the quality of decision-making
at Oakington is extremely high.
Only 28 of the 763 appeals against refusals of asylum were allowed
- so 96.3% of the Home Office decisions were upheld.
Some 231 had been removed from the country by 21 November 2000,
of whom 120 had their final appeals rejected. Enforcement action
is still due to be taken against the remaining 500 or so who are
at large in the community.
In April to September 2000, the Home Office's initial decision
was upheld on appeal in 82% of asylum appeals, compared with 58
% of non-asylum appeals in the same period and 63% of asylum appeals
in the previous year.
These results may also reflect the quality of the initial legal
66. This is faster than the Government's new target that,
from April 2001, most initial decisions on asylum applications
should be made within two months and most appeals decided within
a further four months.
Until recently this process was taking 20 months.
For applications lodged after July 1993, the average time to an
initial decision was between 11 and 16 months in the four years
1996 to 1999. At
the same time the Home Office is tackling the backlog of asylum
applications made and not dealt with fully in the previous years.
The Home Secretary told us on 7 November 2000:
"the level of applications has stabilised for asylum
in this country, whilst in other European countries and
there are some key ones, the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium
it appears to be rising". 
Since then the figures for October and November 2000 have shown
a slight rise in the number of asylum applications - and for December
2000 a slight drop - as shown in Chart D (after paragraph 22).
67. Our inquiry has focussed on measures to deter and detect
illegal entry into the UK. It is clear that these measures
are not fully effective. One reason no one knows how many people
are staying illegally in the country is that there is no
system for monitoring departure. Because the Home Office
does not record whether visitors, students and failed asylum-seekers
have left the country, it cannot tell how many people have remained
beyond the time permitted. This in itself must make the UK very
attractive - a 'pull' factor' - to those with doubtful claims
to refugee status.
68. One way of tackling this gaping hole in the system would
be to provide an incentive for people legitimately in the country
to notify the authorities of their departure. One possibility
would be for part of the fee paid for a visa application to be
refunded on departure.
69. We conclude that the Home Office has been dilatory
in enforcing the removal of people whose asylum claims have been
refused and others who have gained illegal entry to the UK. This
in itself has attracted more people to the UK. The additional
resources being committed to enforcement are welcome. The target
of 30,000 removals in 2001-02 - a ten-fold increase over the 1999
figure - seems a very ambitious goal.