The Home Office has lost track of 5,600 asylum claimants whose applications have been discontinued, it has emerged. In a letter to MPs, ministers said they remained in the UK and the department was urgently trying to “re-establish contact” with them. The figures were published after officials said they did not know where 17,000 former claimants were.
Labour said the admission showed “shocking mismanagement and chaos” in the asylum system. The Home Office confirmed the figures after the Commons Home Affairs Committee demanded answers on the whereabouts of more than 17,000 asylum seekers whose claims were withdrawn in the year to September 2023.
That number had emerged as MPs discussed PM Rishi Sunak’s target to eliminate the “legacy” backlog of applications lodged before July 2022 by the end of last year.
When asked about the 17,000 withdrawn claims, Simon Ridley, a senior civil servant in the Home Office, told the committee in November: “I don’t think we know where all these people are”.
In a follow-up letter to the committee, Illegal Migration Minister Michael Tomlison and Legal Migration Minister Tom Pursglove have now confirmed 5,931 of these claims were being re-examined after the individuals had re-engaged with the Home Office. They added that a further 3,144 were no longer in the UK, whilst 2,643 had been granted a legal migration status.
But they admitted 5,598 – roughly a third – of the claimants “remain in the UK and the Home Office is taking steps to urgently re-establish contact with them”.
“If these individuals were to make further submissions, caseworkers may consider whether their previous actions are damaging to their credibility,” they added. In response, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “This is a staggering admission that the Home Office has lost almost 6,000 asylum seekers and has no idea where they are.
“The fact that thousands of people have been allowed to effectively disappear into the underground economy or left vulnerable to exploitation by criminal gangs is yet more evidence of the shocking mismanagement and chaos in the Tory asylum system.
“Time and again ministers are spending their time on gimmicks rather than getting a grip.”
Asked how the government expects to find the asylum seekers who had disappeared after having their claims withdrawn, Mr Sunak stressed at a press conference on Thursday that the “vast majority” of the 17,000 have “already been removed or are in the process of moving on or have made another claim”.
If people are not reporting back to the Home Office, immigration enforcement officers should “absolutely do everything that they can to identify these people, detain them and send them back”, he said.
Mr Sunak previously pledged to “abolish” a portion of older asylum applications awaiting an initial decision, by the end of last year.
He tasked the Home Office with tackling 92,601 so-called “legacy” claims made before the end of July 2022. The department argues it met the target. However, official figures showed 4,537 applications were still outstanding at the end of 2023.
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