Lunar House in Croydon is the dump where most asylum seekers and other migrants have their claims processed. For Britain to have robust and fair border controls, it has got to work betterby James Fergusson / April 17, 2005 / Leave a comment
In early February, Charles Clarke announced a five-year strategy plan for immigration and asylum. It came hot on the heels of the Tories’ announcement of their own immigration strategy, based on a quota system. The highlight of the Labour proposal was an Australian-style points system. Thanks to this and a raft of other rule-tightening measures, said Clarke, immigration control would be “transformed”—the fourth transformation of Britain’s border regulations since 1997.
So whoever wins the election, the goalposts of immigration will shift once again. What both parties seem to have overlooked, however, is the fact that the effectiveness of their new policies will depend on the ability of civil servants to apply them. There is no point in changing the tyres on a racing car if the engine is leaking oil or about to blow a gasket.
The engine in this case is the immigration and nationality directorate (IND), a branch of the home office with headquarters at Lunar House in Croydon. Lunar House is infamous. It used to feature on television news as a backdrop to queues of immigrants and asylum seekers, and is still perceived by the public as the front line of Britain’s immigration service. Its profile is lower these days because Labour has had some notable successes in tackling the crisis, particularly its asylum aspect. Removals of failed asylum seekers have almost doubled since 1997: last year over 12,000 people, including dependants, were sent home. The backlog of asylum seekers awaiting an initial decision is under 10,000, down from 24,000 at the end of 2003—its lowest level in a decade. Best of all, from the government’s point of view, the total number of asylum applications in 2004 was 33,930, down 60 per cent from its 2002 peak.
These statistics do not tell the full story, however. Reducing the backlog of asylum decisions is less of an achievement if the decisions themselves are faulty. Unfortunately for the IND, statistics also tell us that 19 per cent of the 56,000 appeal cases that were heard by independent adjudicators last year were upheld. This is perhaps the most serious criticism that can be levelled at the IND. We are not talking parking tickets here. For a significant number of appellants, the success or failure of their bid for asylum is potentially a matter of life and death. Yet last year the IND’s initial decisions were just plain wrong in…