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Friday, 30 August, 2002, 13:47 GMT 14:47 UK
Asylum removal target abandoned
Asylum claims process
Applications topped 20,000 for the first time since 2000
The government has conceded it has abandoned its target of deporting 30,000 failed asylum seekers every year.

Home Office minister Beverly Hughes said the target, which was set some time ago, was not readily achievable.

The government has utterly failed to do what it set out to do

Oliver Letwin, Shadow Home Secretary
The admission comes as new figures show the number of people applying for asylum in the UK has risen.

Between April and June this year 4% more applications were made than in the previous three months - a total of 20,400 people.

It is the first time the number of applicants has topped 20,000 since the end of 2000.

New target due

Ms Hughes told BBC Radio 4's The World at One: "The purpose of a target is to drive the organisation in the direction of greatly improved performance in a certain area - and that's why a target is not an end in itself."

"It is a means to an end. It is a driver."

She said the government would "address the issue" of setting new targets "in the next few months".

It would be looking at the issue in the light of "the performance we are achieving so far, which has improved dramatically".

And also in the light of the "extra capacity to assist removal that we have built into the system."

'System in chaos'

But Shadow Home Secretary Oliver Letwin said the move showed "the government has utterly failed to do what it set out to do and is reluctant to admit it."

Asylum applications in previous years
April-June 2002: 20,400
April-June 2001:16,050
April-June 2000: 20,125

At the current rate of removal the backlog in asylum claims would not be cleared for 43 years and two months, Mr Letwin claimed.

He said ministers meant well but they would never clear the backlog until they cut the time taken to process applications from six months to a "matter of weeks".

"What has really happened here is that they have been captured by the mentality of a bureaucracy that has got into a state of chaos and they cannot see beyond it.

"It just doesn't make any sense to go on thinking it takes six months to do this," Mr Letwin said.

Fast-track deportation

The latest figures follow a rise in the number of asylum claims between January and March - the first in more than a year - and is 28% more than the same period last year.

Romanian refugees arrive in Britain
The UK received more applications than any other European country
The figures also revealed a record number of failed asylum seekers - 3,120 including dependants - had been removed.

But this was still little more than a third of the government's target figure of 7,500 a quarter.

Ministers have signalled their intention to bring in fast-track deportation, which would remove failed applicants within eight days.

But the policy is already being challenged in the courts.

Removals target

In the first quarter of this year the number of asylum applications topped 19,500, up 8% on the previous quarter, and the highest since the end of 2000.

The figure rose to an estimated 24,000 when dependants such as spouses and children were included.

Asylum applications over the last year
Q2 2002: 20,400
Q1 2002: 19,520
Q4 2001: 18,005
Q3 2001: 18,855
Q2 2001: 16,050
Q1 2001: 18,790
Q: Quarter

In the second quarter, immigration officials made 19,625 decisions on applications, of which 9% were granted, 27% were given exceptional leave to stay in the UK and 64% were refused.

Iraqi nationals remain the largest group of applicants with 3,420 new claims, up a fifth on the first quarter of the year.

The second largest group was Afghans (2,130, down 9%), followed by Somalis (1,455, up 12%) and Zimbabweans (1,345, down 10%).

Figures published earlier this month showed a different story, however, for year-on-year applications - which fell for the first time in five years last year.

There were an estimated 92,000 applications for asylum in 2001, a 7% fall on the previous year.

The UK still received more applications than any other Western European country, but did not experience the increases in applications seen in some other countries such as Austria, France and Germany.

The UK is ranked tenth among European countries in terms of asylum seekers per head of population.

The BBC's Guto Harri
"Tough new measures have made an impact"

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14 Aug 02 | UK
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