- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 19, 2002

LONDON More than 276,000 asylum-seekers who have been refused permission to stay in Britain have vanished, and many are living in the country illegally, the London Sunday Telegraph discovered.
Despite repeated government pledges to crack down on the problem, the latest figures show that refugees who have been ordered out of Britain are still disappearing at a rate of more than 130 a day.
The 276,214 total of those "lost" by officials since 1990 represents an increase of 150,000 during the past three years.
Oliver Letwin, the Conservative Party's shadow home secretary, said yesterday, "This is truly appalling. We were told just a year ago that the government was getting its removals policy into order. These figures make it perfectly clear that nothing of the sort has happened. The chaos is getting worse."
In March last year, Jack Straw, then the home secretary, promised to remove 30,000 asylum-seekers in the 12 months prior to April 2002. In November, his successor, David Blunkett, abandoned this pledge as "unattainable." He said the target would instead apply in the 12 months prior to April 2003.
The most recent figures, however, show that the problem is not abating. Last year, 87,000 asylum-seekers were refused permission to stay in Britain, but only 9,000 were deported or are known to have left the country.
Some may be in detention camps awaiting deportation or in designated hostels or council houses, although the Home Office says it cannot say how many this may be.
Martin Slade, the general secretary of the Immigration Service Union, which represents employes in the service, said, "If anything, this is a gross underestimation. A lot of asylum-seekers enter the country without being counted, and the removals system is far from perfect."
In some cases, Mr. Slade said, the immigrants are simply escorted to an airport and left to decide whether to board a plane themselves. "You'd think the Home Office would have records with a total of those we've lost track of, but it appears they don't. So where are they? Unless we fall over them by accident, there's really nobody looking for them."
Many absconders are thought to have assumed false identities to take jobs, claim benefits or both a process the union says is "easy and simple."
"Each year it's getting harder to find people," Mr. Slade said. "They physically cannot possibly remove the number they want to because they haven't got the staff."


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