§ Mr. Clappison
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the current size of the backlog of failed asylum seekers liable for removal; and by when he expects that backlog to be cleared. 
§ Mr. Mike O'Brien
[holding answer 29 March 1999]: As at November 1998, the latest date for which a figure is available, the estimated backlog of failed asylum seekers liable for removal was 24,000. That figure represents a snapshot, taken from Immigration and Nationality Directorate port and enforcement databases, of failed asylum seekers, excluding dependants, who have exhausted their rights of appeal (including any who did not submit an appeal against the refusal of asylum) and who are liable for removal.
The backlog figure includes a number of cases where there are one or more barriers to removal such as absconding, judicial review or lack of documentation. Therefore, it is unlikely ever to be the case that the whole of the backlog will be cleared. In light of the unpredictable influence that legal and other barriers exert on the removal process, it is not possible to provide a reliable estimate of when the backlog is likely to be cleared. However, we made clear in the Immigration and Asylum White Paper our commitment to strengthen enforcement of immigration controls. We have already taken a number of steps to deliver that commitment and further measures are included in the Immigration and Asylum Bill.579W
Some 12,500 failed asylum seekers were removed or departed voluntarily between May 1997 and February 1999. This number is greater than the combined annual totals for 1993 to 1996.