More than 140,000 people, including 60,000 declared as “absconders”, have been told by UK immigration authorities that they face detention and removal from Britain, an official watchdog has revealed.
Two reports from the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration give the first official indication of the number of people in Britain without legal status and who are to face action forcing them to leave.
The reports by David Bolt, which have only just been published after being delivered to the home secretary in May, deliver a severe blow to the Home Office’s claims to be creating a “hostile” environment for illegal immigrants in Britain.
The inquiry by the chief inspector concludes that the practical difficulties involved in asking 80,000 people to report regularly to a Home Office centre or a police station has seriously compromised any value in trying to secure their removal from Britain.
Bolt’s office clarified that the 80,000 figure represented a snapshot of the numbers required to report while the 60,000 officially declared as absconders was a cumulative total over time. Some of them may have left the country, the office added.
In the reports Bolt says there is “little evidence that effective action was being taken to locate the vast bulk of absconders”.
He cites an example in which the Home Office’s “hostile environment” measures have backfired and made it more difficult to trace foreign national offenders (FNOs) who have disappeared on release from prison. In line with the measures FNOs were no longer being given help to find somewhere to live after release, with the result that the Home Office no longer had a fixed address for some.
The two inspections by Bolt focused on the operation of the Home Office’s reporting system for those facing removal and on the management outside detention of FNOs who have also been told to leave the country.
“In both cases, I found people and processes under strain,” said the inspector. “The numbers required to report routinely mean that it is extremely difficult for staff at reporting centres to ensure that reporting events are ‘meaningful’, in terms of encouraging voluntary departures or resolving barriers to removal.
“Meanwhile, the removal of foreign national offenders is regularly frustrated, often by last-minute legal challenges, and monitoring non-detained FNOs effectively is a challenge and one that raises obvious public protection concerns,” he said.
Bolt added: “The system is hampered by poor communication and coordination within the Home Office. The inspection found that recording and treatment of non-compliance with reporting restrictions was inconsistent, and there was little evidence of effective action to locate absconders.”
The reports say that in September 2016 more than half of the 80,000 people facing removal reporting monthly or quarterly to the Home Office were required to go to one of three London reporting centres.
“At the busiest of these, Becket House, the numbers of individuals counter staff were expected to process in a day meant that they had on average two to three minutes per interview. Inevitably, opportunities for meaningful interactions were limited.”
About 7,000 or 9% of those required to report failed to turn up and as of December 2016 there were almost 60,000 absconders.
The chief inspector says there are about 5,884 foreign national prisoners who have been released from custody but still face removal. A total of 5,180 were shown to be reporting regularly but 704 were recorded as absconders.
The immigration minister, Brandon Lewis, said: “People who have no right to live in this country should be in no doubt of our determination to remove them. Our priority is to progress cases towards voluntary and – if necessary – enforced departures and we have removed more than 38,600 foreign offenders since 2010.
“This week, like every week, more than 100 foreign criminals will be removed from the UK.
“Elements of these reports make for difficult reading, but we are committed to a programme of transformation. That is why we are conducting a fundamental review of how we establish and maintain contact with those who have not complied with restrictions placed on their stay in the UK. Our future operations will be shaped by the outcome of this review,” he added.
More than 140000 told by UK immigration they face removal – watchdog – The Guardian