The Home Office’s progress in dealing with a backlog of asylum applications has never been smooth, and is now putting Theresa May under pressure. Photograph: PA
When John Reid famously described the Home Office as “not fit for purpose” when he was home secretary in 2006, one of the main things he did was to move immigration and asylum out of the department into a separate agency. He also promised that the backlog of 450,000 outstanding asylum case files would be dealt with by 2011. That deadline has now come back to bite Theresa May, today’s home secretary.
The roots of the problem go back to the late 90s when a complete breakdown in the Home Office immigration and nationality directorate was triggered by a combination of computer meltdown and organisational chaos.
The break-up of the Soviet Union had resulted in the asylum backlog rising above 100,000 for the first time.
When the Home Office tried to beat the computer problems by retrieving thousands of paper files stored in an underground car park at the Croydon HQ of the directorate, they found they were rotting in 45cm of water.
Although Home Office ministers ever since have repeatedly assured MPs that the UK immigration and asylum system has recovered, it is still a Cinderella in Whitehall service and still suffers periodic breakdowns – as the Brodie Clark affair demonstrated last autumn.
The backlog for new asylum applications is now in hand but that has only been achieved at the expense of parking the 450,000 “legacy” files then creating a separate dedicated system to deal with them. Every time there was a new political demand to act on immigration – say to step up the removal of foreign national prisoners – staff were switched away from legacy to deal with the problem of the day.
The net result was that progress was never smooth. While there were 450,000 cases, that did not mean there were 450,000 asylum seekers in limbo here. Many had gone home, were duplicate files, or had been resolved simply by the length of time they had been in Britain. In May 2010 the UK Border Agency said 277,000 of the cases were concluded. About 106,000 had been let stay, 34,000 sent home and 137,000 files closed for other reasons.
As Reid’s 2011 deadline approached, a huge effort was made to hit the target. In Croydon and Liverpool 800 staff and a further 350 temporary workers were assigned to the work, but it was not to be enough.
There is however a political dimension to this as well. When Conservatives cheer the appointment of the Australian Lynton Crosby as David Cameron’s election strategist for 2015, they hope he’ll be able to repeat his 2005 general election pitch to the party’s core vote, especially on the theme of immigration.
But for that to play well, the Tories need a defensible immigration record. They fought the last campaign saying Labour had let it get out of control. The repeated failures of the Home Office meant that message had serious traction. May needs to ensure she does not become tarred with the same brush.
As a result of Teresa May’s ambition to impove immigration figures she has attacked family migration as she has no power to address the EU problems,at present there are 15,000 UK citizens who are living apart from their wifes and children because Teresa May wants to hold onto 3% (total family migration from outside of the EU) so it’s kind of like going down on the titanic but making your bed before the water comes crashing into your room.
There have been recent cases that have gone to appeal which judges have overturned on the basis that the government have broken the law with this ruling and gone against people’s human rights.
Facebook and Media groups fighting this new £18,600 threshold that the Tories have brought in – https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/458130764223591/