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AT least 150,000 migrants have been refused permission to stay in the UK but the authorities, including those in Hampshire, do not know how many have left, a watchdog said today.

John Vine, chief inspector of the UK Border Agency, said there is no clear strategy to find out what proportion of this number of migrants is still in the UK illegally.

Tracking these absconders down and removing them from the country is not seen as a priority for the agency, and there is no clear plan to ensure the cases do not just become another backlog to deal with, Mr Vine said.

The extent of the problems emerged in an inspection of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight local immigration team at the end of last year.

Staff underestimated the scale of the problem by about two-thirds, gauging there were between 400 and 600 cases when there were 1,893 in the area on December 12, Mr Vine said, adding: ‘The agency does not know how many of these individuals have left the country or who are waiting to be removed.’