Over half of UK asylum seekers assigned for removal to Rwanda cannot be located

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More than half of asylum seekers assigned for removal to Rwanda cannot be easily located, according to a UK government report, as official data showed the number of claimants falling into homelessness has surged.

The government said Rwanda had “in principle agreed to accept” 5,700 asylum seekers from the UK but noted in an impact assessment that only “2,143 continue to report to the Home Office and can be located for detention”.

Home Office officials claimed, in a document released on Monday, that the 3,557 remaining people had not necessarily disappeared or “absconded” but were not obliged to report to officials, making it more difficult to track them down.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing a difficult week as the Conservatives brace for potentially devastating losses in the local and mayoral elections on Thursday. Over the past year, he has sought to use a tough-on-migration platform to win over disillusioned Tory voters.

The number of households at threat of homelessness after leaving Home Office asylum accommodation increased nearly 300 per cent in the final quarter of 2023, compared with the previous year, to 6,970, government figures released on Tuesday showed.

Meanwhile, rough sleeping reached its highest quarterly level since records began in 2018. The total stood at 4,500 households in the last three months of 2023.

The numbers reflect changes to the asylum processing system in the second half of last year, as Home Office officials rushed to meet Sunak’s pledge of eliminating the legacy backlog of asylum cases.

The changes included reducing the notice period given to successful asylum seekers before their Home Office support was withdrawn from 28 to seven days. The policy was subsequently scrapped at the end of last year.

Rights groups and homelessness charities have said the government’s decision to accelerate refusals and withdrawals of claims had contributed to a rise in homelessness among migrants.

About 40,000 migrants living in the UK are not allowed to claim asylum because they entered the country after March 7 2023 when new rules enshrined in the Illegal Migration Act came into force. Campaign organisations have warned that these individuals are at high risk of becoming involved with criminal gangs or falling into homelessness.

By the end of the year, up to 120,000 people could be stranded in the UK without the right to claim asylum, according to a recent Refugee Council report.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said it was “no surprise that the Home Office seems to have lost contact with people they want to remove to Rwanda”.

“We know from our work with people who have fled war and persecution that they are incredibly anxious and distressed about the Rwanda plan . . . They will inevitably face the risk of exploitation and abuse,” he added.

The government is expected this week to launch a UK-wide operation to detain asylum seekers in preparation for removal, which will involve detaining people who arrive at immigration service offices for scheduled meetings.

The Home Office said: “As the prime minister has made clear, we will get flights off the ground to Rwanda in the next 10 to 12 weeks.

“In preparation for flights taking off, we have identified the initial cohort to be removed to Rwanda and have hundreds of dedicated caseworkers ready to process any appeals.”

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