The Home Office will take more than a hundred years to clear the backlog of failed asylum seekers living in Britain at the current rate of deportation
Ministers have proudly boasted of meeting Tony Blair's key target of removing more failed applicants than the number of new cases - meaning that the backlog of cases is finally shrinking.
But with an estimated 400,000 rejected asylum seekers still living in Britain, Home Office statistics show the backlog is being reduced at a rate of just 3,500 people per year - meaning the task will take 113 years.
Last month Home Secretary John Reid caused astonishment when he pledged in the House of Commons to clear the backlog of deportations 'within five years and hopefully sooner.'
He quickly backpedalled, claiming later he was referring only to failed asylum seekers 'who can be found' by immigration officers - a promise dismissed by critics as meaningless.
Meeting Tony Blair's target on asylum deportations has led to major distortions in the Home Office's efforts to run Britain's immigration system, as the 1,100 immigration staff available for enforcement operations have had to concentrate almost entirely on sending home failed asylum seekers.
Other areas neglected as a result include the deportation of foreign prisoners, which erupted into a major political scandal earlier this year which cost former Home Secretary Charles Clarke his job.
The Mail reported last week how hard-pressed immigration officers routinely ignore tip-offs from employers warning of illegal immigrants applying for jobs with forged papers, because they lack the manpower to deal with such cases in addition to searching for failed asylum seekers.
Yesterday critics claimed the latest figures gravely undermined John Reid's claims to be tackling the deep-rooted problems in the immigration and asylum system.
In the three months to June this year a total of 5,070 failed asylum seekers were 'removed' from the UK, up slightly on the previous three months.
Around 40 per cent of those went home voluntarily, taking advantages of generous £3,000 bribes and free flights currently offered by the Government - which is cheaper than the £11,000 cost to the taxpayer for each forced deportation.
But during the same three months 4,185 asylum seekers arrived and lodged new claims which are expected to be turned down, meaning that the case backlog only shrank by 295 per month.
Last month the Home Office dramatically increased its estimate of the number of failed asylum seekers still in the country after a trawl of old files uncovered an astonishing 200,000 forgotten cases - taking the total to 400,000 or more.
At the current rate the last failed asylum seekers would be deported some time in the year 2119.
In reality officials accept that many will probably never be tracked down or sent home.
Shadow Immigration Minister, Damian Green, said: 'At this rate it would take over a century to clear the backlog thus undermining John Reid’s claim to resolve this problem within five years.
'In any case this was an artificial target designed to grab headlines rather than address the problem, which has resulted in the Government taking its eye off the ball in several other important areas.'
Overall numbers of asylum applications continued to fall. In the three months to June numbers were down 12 per cent on last year, with 6,380 would-be refugees arriving in the UK.
The biggest sources of asylum seekers were Afghanistan, China and Eritrea.
Eight of ten asylum seekers are refused permission to stay in the UK. Almost all go on to lodge appeals, around a quarter of which are successful.
Currently around 55,000 asylum seekers are receiving state support in the UK.
How long to clear backlog of failed asylum seekers? 113 years