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The BBC's Geeta Guru-Murthy
"Trafficking is now an international multi-million pound criminal industry"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 27 June, 2000, 09:49 GMT 10:49 UK
Illegal immigrants: UK overview
Numbers of asylum seekers are rising, but remain below their 1991 peak
Numbers of asylum seekers are rising, but remain below their 1991 peak
The number of illegal immigrants entering the UK is hard to quantify.

What is known are the numbers applying for asylum - some 71,000 in 1999 according to the Refugee Council, or more than 95,000 including their dependants.

Of these, more than half either dodge immigration officials altogether as they enter the country, or only declare their intention to seek asylum at a later date.

An unknown number of people slip into the country and permanently evade detection - but experts guess that the figure is not large.

Don Flynn of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) estimates that the figure is a "tiny fraction" of the number who apply for asylum - probably no more than 10,000 last year.


A Home Office spokesman agreed, saying that immigrants usually applied for asylum because they would otherwise get no state support.

May asylum seekers
China - 575
Sri Lanka - 495
Iran - 460
Afghanistan - 405
Yugoslavia - 395
Iraq - 380
Turkey - 310
Among those who do not seek asylum, some may have been smuggled into the country by racketeers, who then hold them against their will, forcing them into prostitution or sweated labour.

Others may find refuge with other members of their own immigrant community who provide them with work and the means to survive without relying on the state.

Many of the asylum seekers will eventually be granted asylum or leave to remain in the UK - whether or not they initially entered the UK illegally - because they face danger in their own country.

In some cases they use the UK as a staging post on a longer journey to the United States.

Rising numbers

In May the largest number of new asylum seekers in the UK came from China (575), followed by Sri Lanka (495), Iran (460), and Afghanistan (405).

Asylum applications
1996 - 29,640
1997 - 17,310
1998 - 46,010
1999 - 71,000
In April applicants from Sri Lanka had formed the largest group, followed by those from China.

Applicants from the countries of the former Yugoslavia, taken together, rose to 625 in May, having fallen to 500 in April.

For two months running there has been a significant increase in applications from Iranian nationals.

The overall number of applications for asylum in the UK has been growing for the last three years, but it has not yet reached the high of 73,000 applications registered in 1991.


A similar pattern has been evident in Europe as a whole. Applications for asylum peaked in 1992 then fell away, and began to grow again towards the end of the decade.

In the UK, the Home Office struggles to keep up with the numbers of asylum seekers.

In 1999 it ruled on fewer than 17,000 cases. Of those, according to the Refugee Council, 54% were given permission to stay in the country.

People who have been refused asylum sometimes decide to stay anyway, because the Home Office often made little attempt to expel them in the past.

One other large category of illegal immigrants in the UK, known as "overstayers", is made up of people from non-visa countries, such as the Commonwealth, who enter the country legally but stay longer than they are supposed to.

JCWI estimates there are 40,000 Australians alone who fall into this group.

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