Failed asylum seekers cost £73 million to house and feed
LONDON – Asylum seekers who should have been deported from the country cost £73 million to house and feed last year, new figures have disclosed.
Almost 10,000 failed asylum seekers received an average of £150 a week in accommodation and food allowances while they appealed against deportation.
Ministers have admitted the significant increase in costs borne by the taxpayer – almost 20 times the £4 million spent four years ago – is due to a large backlog of failed claimants, who cannot be removed despite judges ruling they have no right to stay here.
Phil Woolas, Immigration Minister, has blamed lawyers for "playing" the system and delaying deportation by arguing that their clients cannot be returned to their homelands because of conflict or because they are unwell.
But the Refugee Council, which provides advice to asylum seekers, said that the heart of the problem lay with the Home Office for running a process that is "under-resourced" and plagued with "administrative problems".
The figures were disclosed by Mr Woolas in a parliamentary answer to Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrat MP.
In the financial year 2007/08, about 9,365 failed asylum seekers received £73 million in accommodation and food allowances – the equivalent of £8,000 a year or £150 a week for each claimant.
A spokesman for the Home Office said that the number of failed asylum seekers claiming assistance had more than doubled from 5,180 in 2004/05 to 10,850 by the first quarter of this year.
The rise was due to failed claimants becoming more aware they are entitled to receive benefits under Section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, the spokesman said.
The Act says that those who can prove they are destitute can claim free accommodation and £35 a week in food vouchers.
Although the assistance is supposed to be temporary, most who qualify will continue to receive it as their lawyers engage in protracted legal battles against their removal.
Mr Woolas said: "A large proportion of those on Section 4 support have exhausted all rights of appeal and should return home, but their lawyers are continuing to frustrate and delay removals, playing the system and offering false hope."
However, a spokesman for the Refugee Council said: "The Home Office asylum process is extremely under-resourced and it has real administrative problems that have caused the backlog of removals."
Damian Green, Tory immigration spokesman, said: "It’s simply not good enough for Ministers to blame lawyers for the shambles in the whole system. The Government needs very urgently to do something about the rising cost."