The number of outstanding immigration and asylum cases sitting in the UK Border Agency is almost the size of the population of Iceland, says UK Home Affairs Select Committee Chair Keith Vaz MP.
The influential committee claims that the staggering number of immigration cases, including 174,000 ‘missing’ illegal immigrants, equivalent of the number of people living in an entire country.
‘Unresolved’ immigration cases shot up by 25,000 between April and June, with the UK Border Agency dealing with 302,064 cases to investigate, trace or conclude.
Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the committee, said there are about the same number of cases awaiting resolution as there are people living in Iceland and the “backlog is spiralling out of control”.
The backlog stands at a third of a million. It has grown by 25,000 cases in just three months.
“No amnesty” says Immigration Minister
A further 95,000 cases were revealed in August in what the agency calls “controlled archives” – basically piles of unresolved applications (along with passports and personal documents) made by individuals that officials have lost touch with.
The UKBA has promised to close the controlled archives by the end of 2012, but MPs said they were not convinced final checks on each case could be done to an acceptable standard, given that only 149 staff were dealing with them.
But Immigration Minister Mark Harper said a lot of the cases had been “inherited” over a long period of time and many would “actually turn out not to be in the country”.
In an interview with the BBC, he said: “But we’re absolutely not granting an amnesty. If those people ever show up again we will take very firm action against them. We’re working through that backlog steadily and we’re making good progress.”
Mr Harper insisted the government was taking “robust action” and it was increasingly “harder” to live illegally in the UK.
“We are tracking people down and taking action against them. We are restricting access to benefits, free healthcare and financial products, and businesses can be fined up to £10,000 for every illegal worker they employ.”
However, amnesties have already been granted in the form of concessions, such as the 14 year long stay concession or the legacy cases.
The MPs also said they were concerned that since 2011 the UK Border Agency had lost four court cases in which judges said immigration detainees with mental health problems had been falsely imprisoned and subject to inhuman or degrading treatment.
“We are concerned that the cases… may not be isolated incidents but may reflect more systemic failures in relation to the treatment of mentally ill immigration detainees,” said the MPs.
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