Nearly 6,000 migrants missing after asylum applications failed, Home Office admits

18 January 2024, 19:48 | Updated: 18 January 2024, 22:05

A group of people thought to be migrants crossing the Channel in a small boat traveling from the coast of France and heading in the direction of Dover
A group of people thought to be migrants crossing the Channel in a small boat traveling from the coast of France and heading in the direction of Dover. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

Close to 6,000 migrants have disappeared after their asylum applications were withdrawn, the Home Office has said.

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Immigration ministers Michael Tomlinson and Tom Pursglove said in a letter to a parliamentary committee that 5,598 asylum seekers were still in the UK.

They told the Home Affairs committee that the Home Office was "taking steps to urgently re-establish contact with them".

Rishi Sunak has made reducing illegal migration and cutting the asylum backlog a political priority.

The government said in early January that the number of withdrawn asylum applications - when migrants failed to attend appointments or reply to letters - was about 17,000.

This meant the rate had quadrupled in a year, which some speculated was a sign of efforts to move quickly through the backlog.

Addressing the case of the missing migrants, Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said: "This is a staggering admission that the Home Office has lost almost 6,000 asylum seekers and has no idea where they are.

Read more: Rishi Sunak's claim to have cleared asylum backlog branded 'misleading' as thousands still await decision

Read more: LBC Views: Rishi Sunak's Rwanda woes are far from over as he faces Lords challenge and Tory critics circle

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak. Picture: Alamy

"The fact that thousands of people have been allowed to effectively disappear into the underground economy or left vulnerable to exploitation by criminal gangs is yet more evidence of the shocking mismanagement and chaos in the asylum system."

It had previously been suggested that 17,000 asylum seekers whose applications had been withdrawn were missing, but Mr Pursglove and Mr Tomlinson said this was "erroneous".

The ministers said that 3,144 of the 17,000 had left the UK, 2,643 had been given a form of lawful immigration status after their initial rejection, and the applications of 5,931 were still being investigated. That left 5,598 missing.

Mr Pursglove and Mr Tomlinson said in their letter: "The Home Office has a dedicated tracing capability that works with the police, other government agencies and commercial companies to trace absconders.

Andrew Marr says the UK immigration issue 'is not going away any time soon.'

"Where we obtain up to date contact details for a person from our tracing checks, we will then consider the most appropriate intervention, including whether to task an enforcement team to go and arrest them.

"Many individuals who are out of contact may voluntarily re-engage with the department or decide to leave the UK, others may come to light as a result of an encounter with the police, or during other enforcement activity such as an illegal working raid."

Mr Sunak said at the start of the year that the government had cleared the backlog of asylum seekers waiting to have their applications processed, although thousands of cases are still waiting for a final decision.

Labour labelled the claim a "barefaced lie".

The UK's statistics watchdog criticised the Prime Minister over the claim on Thursday.

UK Statistics Authority chairman Sir Robert Chote warned the "episode may affect public trust when the Government sets targets and announces whether they have been met in the other policy domains."

Tonight with Andrew Marr | 18/01 Watch Again

It comes after Mr Sunak got the latest version of the Rwanda bill through the third reading in the House of Commons on Wednesday, despite earlier signs of a Conservative rebellion that could have sunk his premiership.

Now the plan to send people who arrive illegally in the UK to Rwanda will be voted on in the House of Lords. Mr Sunak urged the Lords not to "frustrate the will of the people" on Thursday, but a former Tory leader in the upper chamber warned that a quick resolution is unlikely.

Baroness Tina Stowell told LBC's Andrew Marr: "I think there will be quite a lot of amendments that are tabled that seek to slow the process down.

"I mean, I wouldn't want to put a number on how many weeks it will take but I don’t expect peers to try and cooperate in getting it through quickly."

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