Thursday, April 12, 2012

Hundreds of foreign criminals are still not being deported from Britain

Two-thirds of the foreign prisoners who were mistakenly released back onto the streets are still in Britain, six years after the scandal cost the home secretary Charles Clarke his job.

The much criticised UK Border Agency promised to toughen up its procedures after it was revealed 1,013 immigrants had been released from jail without being considered for deportation in 2006.

But hundreds are still being allowed to remain while thousands more are taking years to process, a House of Commons Home Affairs Committee has discovered.

The report found that only 397 had been removed, 57 had completely gone missing and the rest had been allowed to stay or were still being dealt with.

"Six years is far too long for this situation to be resolved and these cases should have been concluded long ago," the committee concluded.

A year after the debacle, in which Mr Clarke resigned, the UK Borders Act introduced an "automatic deportation" provision for any non-EU citizen who has served a 12-month sentence or more to be receive a removal notice.

Yet the report, the third into the UKBA, also found that 10 per cent of the 5,010 foreign national prisoners released last year were allowed to remain.

More than a 1,000 were still fighting deportation although on what grounds it was not known.

It also found that 2,670 released prisoners were still fighting deportation after being released more than two years ago.

Almost 20,000 asylum cases also remain unresolved and some 120,000 immigration cases are being written off because the applicant can no longer be found, it added.

Keith Vaz, the committee's chairman, said: "The reputation of the Home Office, and by extension, the UK Government, is being tarnished by the inability of the UK Border Agency (UKBA) to fulfil its basic functions.

"The foreign national prisoner issue and the asylum backlog were scandals which first broke in 2006, six years ago.

"UKBA appears unable to focus on its key task of tracking and removing illegal immigrants, overstayers or bogus students from the country."

The agency was also criticised for its "bunker mentality" and its confusing and misleading method of recording data.

"The 'agency' must rid itself of its bunker mentality and focus on ensuring that Parliament and the public understands its work," the MPs said.

"Confusion over figures only risks suspicion that the 'agency' is attempting to mislead Parliament and the public over its performance and effectiveness.

"The only way the Home Office can allay and remove these fears is to clean up and clarify all the figures that are used in these reports."

The committee called for the authorities to ensure foreign defendants have the necessary travel documentation as soon as they are sentenced in a bid to see them deported once they have served their jail term.

Immigration minister Damian Green said the UKBA had improved from a state of "complete chaos" when the Government took office two years ago.

Speaking to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Mr Green said: "It is getting better slowly, probably too slowly than most people would want - some areas are getting better faster than other areas.

"The asylum service is immeasurably much better than it was three or four years ago.

"We start deportation action on foreign national prisoners now 18 months before the end of their sentence. As a result of that, last year we removed over 4,500 foreign criminals, and 45% of those were by the end of their sentence."

"In the coming months, we will be changing immigration laws to cut the abuse of the Human Rights Act, which has been used by far too many people to delay the process of removal."


UK lawmakers: Olympics could overwhelm Heathrow

British lawmakers have questioned Heathrow Airport's ability to cope with an influx of passengers during the London Olympics this summer, warning that long lines at immigration could force planes to sit on runways or even circle Europe's busiest airport.

The concerns were expressed in a letter to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt from the chairman of House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport committee, John Whittingdale. It was published Wednesday.

Whittingdale wrote that lawmakers had met with Heathrow operator BAA on its preparations for Olympic games and "did not leave the briefing confident" that Heathrow was ready to cope with huge numbers of arrivals around the Olympics in a "timely fashion." The games run from July 27 to Aug. 12.

"We understand that significant preparations have been made to accommodate unusual sporting equipment, special lanes for the Olympic family, welcoming arrangements for competitors and additional Olympic ambassadors," Whittingdale wrote. "However, far less thought seems to have been given to the issue of how to deal with long queues at immigration."

Whittingdale said those lines could push terminals over capacity, forcing planes to circle in the air, sit on runways or block gates if they can't unload their passengers.

Last year, even without the crush of the Olympics, Britain's former border chief relaxed some passport checks during the busy summer tourist season just to handle the demand.

Long immigrations waits could deter tourists from returning to Britain, Whittingdale added.

Heathrow typically handles an average of 190,000 passengers arriving and departing each day, with 69.4 million total in 2011.

BAA noted that Whittingdale's concerns related to immigration -- which is the U.K. Border Agency's responsibility -- and criticized the agency.

"Immigration waiting times during peak periods at Heathrow are frequently unacceptable and we have called on Border Force to address the problem as a matter of urgency," BAA said. "There isn't a trade-off between strong border security and a good passenger experience -- Border Force should be delivering both."

The U.K. Border Agency responded to the letter by saying it is "well prepared" for the Olympics and has additional staff available for busy periods.

"We will not compromise on border security," it said.

The day after the closing ceremony -- Monday, Aug. 13 -- is set to be the airport's busiest ever, BAA estimates, more than its previous record of 233,561 passengers on July 31, 2011. Heathrow is forecasting it will handle 35 percent more baggage for departing flights on Aug. 13 than on a normal day, which sees about 150,000 items.

Heathrow is creating a special terminal for Olympic athletes, coaches and sponsor to fly out of Britain after the end of the games. Airport officials say 10,000 athletes and support staff will go through the "Special Games Terminal" in the three days after the closing ceremony to process the exodus.


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