Asylum seekers 'lost without trace'
At least 60,000 asylum seekers will be lost without trace as the UK Border Agency (UKBA) struggles to clear its backlog of claims, MPs have said.
They will be left in limbo as their claims are consigned to a growing pile of applications unlikely to ever be resolved, the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee said.
Of the backlog of up to 450,000 claims identified in 2006, at least one in seven "will be concluded on the basis that the UK Border Agency (UKBA) has been completely unable to trace what has happened to the applicant", the MPs said.
In a critical report, the MPs found the UKBA was "still failing to meet expectations" with delays and backlogs being attributed "at least in part to inadequate decision-making in the first instance".
"While we agree that the UK Border Agency should not spend unlimited time trying to track down missing applicants, we are concerned about the high proportion of cases which will be left, in effect, in limbo," the report said. "Again, this points to the vital need to deal with cases as expeditiously as possible and not to let backlogs grow."
Keith Vaz, the committee's chairman, added: "Much of the delay in concluding asylum and other immigration cases stems from poor quality decision-making when the application is initially considered. The UK Border Agency has made some progress over the last few years in relation to new procedures and approaches, but is still failing to meet expectations.
"More consistent and rigorous scrutiny of applications would lead to fewer delays, fewer appeals, less uncertainty for the applicant, less pressure on the officials themselves, and probably lower costs for the UK taxpayer."
Greater investment in staff training and a "more consistent and considered direction from those setting policy" may both be needed, he said.
The backlog of up to 450,000 unresolved asylum cases first emerged in 2006, with some dating back more than a decade. Several steps have been taken to clear the backlog and asylum seekers who have not been able to be traced by UKBA officials, and who have not appeared on watchlists for at least six months, are consigned to a "controlled archive".
UKBA's outgoing chief executive Lin Homer told the committee that very few of these would "come alive again", meaning they were unlikely ever to be decided.