UK

UKBA 'ignored' police data on missing asylum seekers

A UK Border Agency worker holding a passport
Image caption The UKBA has been criticised for failing to act on information from the Police National Computer

Immigration officials failed to pursue more than 3,000 leads when trying to track down missing asylum seekers, an independent inspector has found.

John Vine, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, said the now-defunct UK Border Agency (UKBA) took no action on 3,077 cases.

The UKBA deemed the Police National Computer matches "unreliable" but there was "no rationale" for this, he said.

Immigration minister Mark Harper said he "welcomed" the inspector's report.

Home Secretary Theresa May asked Mr Vine to conduct a follow-up investigation after a report published in November found serious failings at the UKBA, particularly in relation to a backlog of long-standing asylum cases.

Mr Vine's new report into the UKBA's work spanned the period between January and March this year and reviewed issues which were highlighted by the November report.

It identified a number of improvements were made to tackle the backlog, but he also highlighted some concerns.

These included the UKBA's failure to use the information from police to help trace the missing asylum seekers.

He also found work had not yet started on archived cases and active reviews that had been reopened as a result of information garnered from the Police National Computer (PNC).

"I believe the Home Office needs to demonstrate to applicants, Parliament and the public that it has taken all reasonable action to identify whether individuals remain in the UK illegally," Mr Vine said.

"The Home Office will now need to ensure that these cases are afforded priority and publish a realistic and achievable timescale for the completion of all legacy asylum and migration cases."

'Lack of consistency'

Mr Vine told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that there was a backlog of 42,000 legacy asylum cases, with some cases dating back over a decade and relating to people whose whereabouts were "largely unknown".

He said he found the PNC was not being used to trace these people and there had been a "lack of consistency" in dealing with the cases.

"There needs to be light at the end of the tunnel with this, not least because the resources can then be deployed to deal with more pressing immigration issues," he said.

The UKBA was closed in March and its functions were split into two parts, one focusing on the visa system and the other on immigration law enforcement.

Responding to the new report, the committee's chairman Keith Vaz said he was "astonished" the UKBA had failed to act on the police information.

"If data on the PNC is really considered unreliable by a Home Office agency, then that raises some very serious questions for the police," he said.

"It seems evidence of the UKBA's incompetence continues to surface from beyond the grave."

Immigration minister Mr Harper said: "The report comments positively on the progress made and we are now focused on reviewing each remaining legacy case in detail, to ensure the right decision is reached and appropriate follow-up action taken."

He said it would "take time to clear the backlogs and fix the system", but changes which had already been made meant the Home Office was in a "much stronger position" to tackle the problems.

But shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant said the report showed immigration officials were "failing at even the most basic levels to tackle illegal immigration".

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