The Sunday Times, Uncategorized

July 30th, 2006

We need to talk numbers on immigration

To those who prefer to laugh whenever possible, news on the immigration front last week provided an opportunity for a grim little snigger. The day after the home secretary brought forth his much-heralded cunning plan for Rebuilding Confidence in our Immigration System, The Sun accused a senior immigration officer at the Home Office of running an asylum racket.

Joseph Dzumbira, the official, allegedly boasted to an undercover reporter that he could get anyone refugee status here for up to £2,000, and that he has done so “a couple of hundred times”. If correct, then the last laugh is on us — we gave Dzumbira himself asylum in the first place.

Dzumbira has, reportedly, many ways of beating the byzantine immigration system, but allegedly his biggest scam is helping bogus asylum seekers of quite different nationalities to pretend they are “Zims” — Zimbabweans threatened with arrest in their home country. If successful these immigrants can rely on the humanity of British courts, which refuse to send Zimbabweans back to Robert Mugabe’s police state. Dzumbira is Zimbabwean-born and can allegedly arrange fake arrest warrants directly from Zimbabwe.

Apparently his best efforts are not always needed: he reportedly told The Sun that Zimbabwean asylum seekers here do not get subjected to proper security checks. What’s more, he says our border controls are so lax anyone could arrive in Britain and then post their passport home for a relation to use to come here as well. This man appears to know what he is talking about; he is in charge of vetting thousands of asylum claims a year.

Rebuilding Confidence in our Immigration System? You can only laugh. That will take a great deal more than John Reid’s sweeping promises of last week. We cannot really be said to have an immigration system at all or any coherent policy. Such as it is, it’s overwhelmed by inefficiency, bad faith, muddled thinking, corruption and incompetence. The government has no concept of an ideal number of immigrants (asylum seekers or others).

The last comment on the matter came from David Blunkett who said, when home secretary, that he could not really see the need for any particular limit. It is only recently that people have stopped throwing about indignant accusations of “playing the numbers game”, as if discussing the optimum number of newcomers to this crowded country was in itself a clear sign of vicious racism. Meanwhile our economy, everyone says, needs immigrants regardless of housing pressures and the public services.

We know that the head of enforcement and removals at the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) admitted in May that he had not the “faintest idea” how many illegal immigrants there were. Reid claimed last week that the government had made progress towards its goals of increasing the removal of failed asylum seekers and cutting illegal immigration. But this was quite obviously absurd since, just a few days earlier, his own department had had to admit that there could be as many as 450,000 failed asylum seekers, although only months previously it had denied there were as many as 250,000.

One is left wondering how on earth it happened that almost by stealth, by corruption or by incompetence such enormous numbers of people have been let into this country without any policy and without any democratic debate. If Reid wants to persuade the public that he intends to do something about this shameful mess, he has a great deal of explaining to do first.

Why, for instance, does he promise to impose full passport checks on people entering and leaving Britain each year, but not until 2014? That is perhaps the single most important thing he could do to control immigration (and to check terrorism) and it can hardly be complicated. I went to a Third World country last month where passports are checked in and out of the borders, every time, by being scanned onto a computer. State-of-the-art bioscans are not essential.

Why does the home secretary promise that the asylum backlog will be cleared in five years when the Home Office doesn’t know the size of the backlog? It doesn’t know how many foreign nationals are here, even legally. It does, however, know that more than 10,265 foreign nationals are in jail in England and Wales (as of February this year); that is more than a tenth of all prisoners (76,717).

Why can’t we get rid of them? Most Britons agree that they should be deported — the prime minister got carried away recently and promised to do just that, to general consternation. It might prove a powerful deterrent to crime; perhaps the Zimbabwe immigration scam might be less popular if it carried a risk of deportation to Zimbabwe. As the law stands, it’s not possible.

Then there is the further problem, pointed out by a chief immigration officer in The Daily Telegraph last week: “To a greater or lesser extent, IND staff shy away from dealing with removals of failed asylum seekers to China, Iran, Pakistan, India, Kenya, Jamaica, Ghana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Jordan, Turkey and Nigeria . . . because the authorities of those countries refuse to accept their nationals back without a travel document — which their British representatives won’t issue within an acceptable time scale.” Why is that difficult?

It may perhaps have something to do with the general culture of the Home Office and the IND. Steve Moxon, the immigration whistleblower, paints a depressing picture on his website of IND caseworking — bedevilled by inefficiency, ignorance and low morale, with politically correct distractions from the work. Other sources have told me that the standard of candidates in the Home Office has declined seriously.

Lastly, or rather firstly, the home secretary must talk openly and accurately about numbers. Of course immigrants are good for a society, up to a point. New Labour has offered no serious consideration of that point. Nor has it demonstrated that an open door is good for the economy; the real argument is the other way. What we need is rational and controlled immigration; until we have rational and controlled politicians and civil servants, we are hardly likely to get it. It isn’t really funny.