Friday, November 23, 2012

A shambles! The truth about Britain's leaky borders... Lack of checks let thousands of illegal immigrants stay in Britain

Tens of thousands of illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers were allowed to stay in the UK without proper checks in yet another borders scandal, it emerged last night.  A Government inspector found that thousands of foreign nationals were granted an ‘amnesty’ without their files even being looked at.

Officials at the shambolic UK Border Agency (UKBA) also ignored evidence of deception and fraud by applicants whose cases dated back up to 17 years.

Some 124,000 cases were put in  cold storage without proper checks to see if the applicant could be found. It has since emerged 37,500 people involved could have been easily located and potentially booted out.

A further 10,000 cases classified as having ‘legal barriers to removal’ had, in fact, just never been opened.

Officials also repeatedly misled Parliament over what was happening, according to John Vine, the chief inspector of Borders and Immigration.

The grave charge has infuriated MPs and could trigger a new inquiry by the home affairs select committee. Its chairman, Keith Vaz, said last night: ‘This is a devastating report. The failure to properly check asylum cases means UKBA is in danger of overseeing an effective amnesty for many of them.

‘It appears that senior officials of the UKBA have misled the committee about facts and figures. To mislead a committee of the House is an extremely serious matter.

‘Those same officials.... have all received bonuses. On the basis of this report, they should hand them back immediately.’

One official who gave false information to the committee, Lin Homer, has since been promoted to chief executive at HM Revenue and Customs on £175,000 a year.

Mr Vine’s explosive report lays bare the incompetence and confusion which took hold in the Home Office when 450,000 historic claims were unearthed by former Home Secretary John Reid in 2006.

A deadline of April 2011 was set to clear the so-called legacy backlog, which involved 500,000 files.

The Mail has repeatedly highlighted how a huge number of the applications were being rubber-stamped. Mr Vine’s report puts a final figure on the number officially given asylum under this amnesty – an astonishing 172,000.

But he also reveals what happened to the tens of thousands of cases where UKBA officials insisted the applicants could not be found.

In November 2010, then agency chief executive Miss Homer told MPs that 100,000 cases were put in a controlled archive only after a ‘significant number of checks’. Miss Homer left the agency in January 2011.

In April that year, acting chief executive Jonathan Sedgwick told the home affairs committee that each controlled archive case had been checked ‘against 19 databases – Government, Home Office, private sector databases’.

But a sample of cases examined by Mr Vine found that just 4 per cent had been subject to external checks.

In the months leading up to April 2011, cases were put in the archive on the basis that no trace could be found of the asylum seeker. But, the report found, in many such cases that was simply because officials in the unit processing them – the Case Resolution Directorate – had not opened the post to find letters from lawyers.

In April 2011, the remaining cases were moved to the Case Assurance and Audit Unit, based in Liverpool, which quickly became ‘overwhelmed’. It took on 147,000 cases, with fewer that 100 staff.

Such was the chaos that 150 boxes of post were found unopened in the new unit. In the following months, vast numbers of cases were fast-tracked, with just 13 per cent of applicants refused the right to remain here. Some were allowed to stay despite ‘multiple examples of deception’ and even imprisonment for fraud.

Case workers routinely granted migrants the right to stay under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act because they had been here so long, and applicants’ statements were accepted at face value.

There was, the report said, ‘little evidence in a number of cases to demonstrate that they were being considered on their individual merits’.

In a desperate bid to clear the cases, managers allowed case workers to grant the right to stay without even opening the file. Some 3,750 cases were decided this way.

Of the controlled archive cases examined by the inspectors, on average they were not dealt with for more than seven years and one was not opened for 17 years.

Once external checks were finally carried out this year, 31,000 migrants whose cases had been archived were ‘found’. Even now, many individuals are not being chased down immediately because of ‘insufficient resources’.

Mr Vine said: ‘I found that updates given by the agency to Parliament in the summer of 2011, stating that the legacy of unresolved asylum cases was resolved, were inaccurate.’

A Home Office spokesman said: ‘We have known for some time that UKBA is a troubled organisation with a poor record of delivery. Turning the agency around will take time, but we are making progress.’


Australia Defends Tough Media Detention Center Restrictions

SYDNEY — Australian immigration officials have defended restrictions that limit press access to detention centers.  While the media are barred from offshore processing camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, journalists are allowed into facilities on the mainland but are subject to strict rules and barred from formally interviewing detainees.

Eighteen months ago the Australian Broadcasting Corporation said that the country’s immigration centers were “less open and transparent than Guantanamo Bay.”

Since then, the Immigration Department has given reporters limited access to detention facilities under a Deed of Agreement on media access.

Journalists are permitted to speak with detainees but are not given permission to formally interview them or record their comments, nor are they allowed to publish images of inmates’ faces.

Immigration officials say the restrictions are in place to protect the privacy of asylum seekers, in much the same way that school children or hospital patients have their privacy protected from the press in Australia.

While reporters are allowed to visit mainland immigration facilities, they are barred from recently reopened camps in Papua New Guinea and on the tiny South Pacific island of Nauru, which houses asylum seekers from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan.

Senior Australian immigration department spokesman, Sandi Logan, told a forum at the University of Technology Sydney that he hoped the press will eventually be allowed in.

“I have got to say that operationally there are much greater priorities for us in Nauru at the moment than a media access policy. But having said that, I think it is absolutely essential that journalists have access to that facility and likewise to the facility in Papua New Guinea, and that will be something that in time, in time, will be negotiated.  And when those two parties i.e. the government of Australia and the government of Nauru have agreed on the settings, the parameters for that media access then it would be my expectation that will occur," said Logan.

Australian journalists say that the Deed of Agreement that governs visits to detention centers is too restrictive, and prevents them from telling the true story of conditions behind the razor wire fences.

The head of the Australian Press Council, Julian Disney, says the public does have a right to know.

“People in those detention centers are there because of government policies," he said. "They are the policies adopted by the governments we have elected and they are having a very substantial impact on people, even if those people are not our citizens.  Therefore as citizens of Australia people are entitled to know what the impact of their government policies are.  But we think there are substantial ways in which these restrictions go too far.”

Since the restrictions were brought in a year ago, about 50 journalists, including reporters from Switzerland and Germany, have toured mainland immigration centers in Australia.

It is unclear when press access will be granted to Australia’s two offshore detention centers on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, which reopened Wednesday, and another on the tiny South Pacific republic of Nauru, which reopened in September.

Both facilities were used by the former conservative government in Australia.  In the past critics derided the policy as cruel and ineffective, and they are taking aim once again. 

Amnesty International this week said conditions on Nauru were responsible for a ''terrible spiral'' of hunger strikes and suicide attempts.

Australia grants protection visas to about 13,000 refugees each year under a range of international agreements.


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