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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 May, 2005, 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK
Asylum applications down by 17%
Asylum seekers at the government's offices
A new bill may allow asylum applications to be fast-tracked
The number of asylum seekers arriving in Britain fell by 17% in the first quarter of this year, Home Office figures show.

Some 7,015 people, excluding dependants such as spouses and children, arrived in the UK claiming asylum between 1 January and the end of March 2005.

In the final quarter of 2004 the number was 8,465.

A total of 3,000 failed asylum seekers were removed, up from 2,895 for the previous quarter.

The Home Office said monthly asylum applications were down to their lowest levels since March 1997.

Iran - 850 asylum seekers
Iraq - 525
Somalia - 495
China - 430
DR Congo - 335

Source: Home Office

Immigration minister Tony McNulty said the drop was due to the government "moving immigration controls across the channel, securing the closure of Sangatte and speeding up the asylum process".

He added: "But we also know there is more to do to tighten the system still further and increase the number of failed asylum seekers we remove."

The figures also show a decrease in the number of appeals against refusal of asylum.

Appeals dropped by 19% for the first quarter of 2005 - down from 7,100 during the last quarter of 2004 to 5,700.

But the number of decisions on those appeals has also fallen since January - with 11,085, or 5%, fewer rulings made.

As part of its five year plan to tackle the issue, the government announced the Asylum and Immigration Bill in the Queen's Speech.

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