ASYLUM-SEEKERS and illegal immigrants are to be offered a £3,000 bounty to leave Britain voluntarily as part of the Government's efforts to increase the number who are returning home. The handouts will be paid to people who agree to leave the country in the next six months and could mean a family of four receiving £8,000 in cash plus a further £4,000 in job training and education. It is the first time that asylum-seekers and illegal migrants have been offered cash to leave the country and could cost £6.2 million if the predicted 3,000 people take the offer. In addition the Government will pay their travel costs.
The move comes after the Home Office admitted that it has failed to meet the Prime Minister's pledge that by the end of last year the number of asylum-seekers removed would be more than the number arriving each month. A more attractive package for voluntary departures should ensure that the target is met and that overall removals increase during the next six months. The scheme is to be advertised in immigration detention centres, asylum-seeker reporting centres and in a mailshot sent to 54,000 people receiving benefits and accommodation from the National Asylum Support Service. Tony McNulty, the Immigration Minister, announced the revised package in a written statement to MPs yesterday. Under the existing scheme asylum-seekers are offered £1,000 to help with education, retraining and setting up a business. The Home Office is now to provide an extra £2,000 per person, which the asylum-seeker will be offered in cash. The scheme is to be piloted for six months until the end of June and is eligible only for those who claimed asylum before the end of December. Mr McNulty said: "All those who leave the UK under this scheme will be offered an additional £2,000, which they can choose to take as either additional reintegration assistance or cash grants." Both the National Audit Officer and the Commons Public Accounts Committee have urged ministers to encourage more people to leave voluntarily because a forced removal costs £11,000 per person. A Home Office spokesman said that those departing would not be given "wads of £20 notes" as they left the country.Cash would be paid in instalments over the next 12 months in a scheme administered by the International Office of Migration, he said. The spokesman added that most people who left under the scheme tended to be single males. Of the 2,783 who left voluntarily under the scheme in 2004-05, only 244 were under 18. Last year Sir John Gieve, the outgoing Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, warned MPs that increasing the payment might encourage people to come to Britain. He said: "If the worst thing that is going to happen to you if you come and claim asylum when you are not due asylum in Britain is that someone gives you a few thousand pounds to send you home, that may not look like a very big downside." Damian Green, the Shadow Immigration Minister, said: "In the short term this might be a sensible move." He added: "What is clearly driving it is that the Government has missed their target of removals for 2005 and say they will hit it by the end of February. They must be very worried they are going to miss it again."
Maeve Sherlock, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said that she welcomed the move. "It will be cheaper, more humane and more efficient," she said. "Enabling people to return home by giving them financial help to rebuild their lives has to be better than enforced removals that often involve men, women and children being snatched without warning, locked in detention centres and then flown out in handcuffs." COUNT THE COST
In 2003-04 17,855 failed asylum applicants and dependents removed or left voluntarily
£1.89 billion spent on immigration and nationality, of which £1.07 billion goes to the National Asylum Suppport Service
£285 million pays for voluntary removals, detaining immigration offenders and immigration enforcement
£308 million spent on supporting asylum-seekers awaiting removal