Government bemoans ‘outdated system’ as asylum backlog hits all-time high

Pile of cases continues to grow as government faces calls to help Afghan refugees

Credit: Kirsty O’Connor/PA Archive/PA Images

The backlog of asylum cases being processed by the UK hit a record high at the end of June 2021, according to Home Office data, with 70,905 still yet to receive a decision.

The department has blamed an “outdated system” for the backlog, but claims it has made “significant progress in prioritising those with acute vulnerability”.

As many as 54,040 (76%) of those outstanding claims related to cases have been waiting for more than six months for a decision, up from 38,756 this time last year. The proportion of cases processed within six months also hit a new low, with just 13.5% of the 8,604 asylum claims received in December 2020 processed by June 2021.

These figures mark a sharp drop from the same period in 2019, when 20.3% of the 10,130 claims received were processed in that timeframe.

Meanwhile, the number of people coming to the UK to claim asylum has fallen by 4% over the past year, with 31,115 arriving in the year to June.

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In that period, 21,686 asylum claims were processed by the Home Office, resulting in 10,064 people being granted some form of protective status in the UK.

Some 6,449 people were also granted refugee family reunion visas — a visa only provided if their family member also passed through the asylum system successfully. 

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The rapid intake of asylum claims into the outdated system has outstripped any ability to make asylum decisions quickly. This has led to asylum caseload growing to unsustainable levels, often at the expense of those who are in need of protection, who are stuck in the system.”

“We are working to streamline cases and have already made significant progress in prioritising those with acute vulnerability but we are determined to clear the backlog to help speed up decisions and prevent people remaining in the system for long periods of time.”

They added that the Nationality and Borders Bill, currently being considered in parliament, marks the “most significant overhaul of our asylum system in decades, which will increase its fairness and efficacy so that we can better protect and support those in genuine need of asylum”.

The ever-increasing backlog of asylum applications comes as the UK is facing growing pressure to take in thousands of asylum seekers and refugees fleeing Afghanistan following its fall to the Taliban. 

Around 3,000 of those awaiting asylum decision up to June 2021 were Afghans, according to Home Office figures released on Thursday.

Figures show that of 1,089 Afghans whose asylum claims were determined in the year to June 2021, only 489 were granted some form of protective status. 

The Refugee Council has warned that the figures “lay bare the fact that we have an asylum system that is not working effectively”, and Amnesty International has criticised the government for rejecting the asylum claims of people from Afghanistan during the early stages of the Taliban takeover.

“Several areas of today’s immigration statistics ring alarm bells,” said Enver Solomon, the council’s chief executive. “That the number of people still waiting for news of their fate has soared to more than 70,000, of whom over 3,000 are Afghans fleeing the Taliban, lays bare the fact that we have an asylum system that is not working effectively. It is cruel and unfair to leave people living in desperate limbo, not knowing what their future holds.”

Most Afghan arrivals have been granted residency under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) scheme, however this immigration route only applies to “current or former locally employed staff assessed to be at serious risk of threat to life”.

“Shockingly, the Home Office rejected claims from Afghans at the very time the Taliban was taking control of the country,” said Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director.  “It’s heart-rending to think of the distress and anxiety that many people go through when their asylum claims are rejected — the fear of being detained or even returned to danger while their lives are left in painful limbo here. These statistics show once again that the Home Secretary’s cruel plans to criminalise and prevent people from seeking asylum in the UK are completely out of touch with the realities of the volatile world we live in.”


Sam Trendall

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