Pakistani activist, who first came to Britain in 2005, says the immigration system in UK wasted 11 years of his life
LONDON: Faced with a massive influx of people fleeing troubled countries, Europe’s already stretched asylum system is under increasing pressure and tens of thousands of people are faced with legal deadlock.
Those whose asylum applications are rejected often become snared in bureaucratic systems that struggle to process vast numbers of cases, leaving them stuck in limbo for months or even years.
The result is stress for failed asylum seekers — and an expensive political headache for the European Union countries to which they have travelled.
Liaquat Ali Hazara, a Pakistani activist for the persecuted Shia Muslim Hazara group, applied for asylum in Britain in 2012 after receiving threats from the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militant groups.
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His application was turned down in 2013 but he continues to challenge the decision in the courts, after spending six months in detention last year.
The activist, who first came to Britain in 2005, told AFP: “I’ve given 11 years of my life to the UK. My etiquette, my characteristics, my idiosyncrasies — everything has become British. They have wasted my life.”
The five EU countries that received the most asylum applications in the second quarter of this year were Germany, Hungary, Austria, Italy and France.
The most rejections were issued in Germany (57 percent of 46,085 initial decisions), France (75 percent of 19,425), Italy (53 percent of 13,760), Britain (60 percent of 8,080) and Sweden (25 percent of 10,065).
In Britain, the asylum system has embarrassed governments for years as they struggle to clear a backlog of cases linked to organisational problems.
Prime Minister David Cameron pledged in July to deport more migrants and the government is consulting on legislation to curb financial support for failed asylum seekers.
But there are more than 21,000 asylum applications dating back to 2006 that have still not been resolved either way, according to official figures.
A study by MPs in July put the cost of holding one person for a year in immigration detention at over £36,000 (48,000 euros, $55,000).
Britain is the only EU country with no limit on the amount of time an asylum seeker can be held in an immigration detention centre.
In Germany, which expects up to a million refugees and migrants to arrive this year after Chancellor Angela Merkel took a welcoming approach, there is growing public debate about the removal of failed asylum seekers which, in practice, is relatively rare.
According to the mass-circulation Bild on August 31, of 190,641 people who were obliged to leave Germany, 138,133 had obtained a temporary residence permit for health reasons or because of the situation in their home country.
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That left 52,508 people theoretically facing deportation.
In France, a public finance watchdog estimated this year that only one percent of asylum seekers whose cases had been rejected were expelled.
The Socialist government, which faces a growing challenge from the far-right National Front party, put the figure at around 20 percent and ministers are trying to speed up processing times.
Migrants’ representatives argue that the system’s failings hinder new arrivals’ efforts to integrate, while right-wingers say it prompts migrants to bypass official channels altogether.
In Sweden, rejected asylum seekers usually have between two and four weeks to leave the country voluntarily after their application is rejected.
The system is considered to work efficiently but questions have arisen over how long it will cope given the large numbers arriving.
Charlotte Lindeberg, a spokesperson for the Swedish Migration Board, called the increase “a challenge” and said tackling it would require “increased and closer cooperation” between different authorities.
Fixing the status quo where necessary is a tall order. In Britain as in many other EU countries, immigration is a highly sensitive political issue.
An Ipsos MORI/Economist opinion poll in September found 56 percent of the public considered immigration the most important issue facing Britain — “the highest level of concern we have ever recorded” on the subject.
Some experts believe migration could be one of the major issues of the 21st century and that countries need to change their approach.
Professor Alexander Betts, director of Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Centre, argued that many people now fall between the existing definitions of “refugees” and “economic migrants” and could be called “survival migrants” instead.
Writing in the Observer newspaper last month, he said: “The world as a whole lacks vision for how to respond to the changing nature of displacement.”