UNACCEPTABLE! Over 170,000 waiting for asylum claims decision

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Demonstrators demanding the closure of the Campsfield detention centre near Oxford. It was closed down in 2019 following a huge campaign and the publication of a government review on the treatment of vulnerable people in immigration detention. Now, the government intends to reopen it and house up to 400 men there, pending deportation - possibly to Rwanda.

‘It’s unacceptable that there are now over 170,000 people stuck in limbo as they wait for a decision on their asylum claims – with three quarters of them waiting for longer than six months, said Enver Solomon, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Refugee Council last Friday.

He was responding to the UK government’s latest quarterly immigration statistics for the year ending March 2023, which were released on 25 May 2023.

‘Long waits have a devastating impact on refugees, who find themselves stuck in limbo, living in unsuitable accommodation such as hotels at huge cost, and unable to work or move on with their lives,’ added Solomon.

The Refugee Council noted ‘our top facts from these statistics’:

1. People seeking asylum make up a tiny proportion of new arrivals in Britain.

There were 75,492 asylum applications (relating to 91,047 people) in the UK in the year ending March 2023, a 33% increase from the previous 12 months. The increase in applications is likely to be due to the continued global increase in the number of people displaced due to war and conflict.

In the year ending March 2023, the top five countries of origin of people seeking asylum were Albania, Afghanistan, Iran, India, and Iraq.

In terms of the number of asylum applications per head of population, the UK ranks 22nd highest in Europe.

2. The number of people crossing the Channel in small boats is stable.

There were 16,519 people detected arriving by small boats between October 2022 to March 2023. This was a slight increase on the number in the same six months in 2021 and 2022 (15,990).

372 small boats were detected arriving in the UK between October 2022 to March 2023, compared with 507 between October 2021 to March 2022.

There has been an average of 44 people per small boat in the six months to March 2023, compared with 32 people per small boat in the same period to March 2022.

In the first three months of 2023, two thirds (65%) of small boat arrivals were from just four nationalities: Afghan (24%), Indian (18%), Iranian (14%) and Iraqi (9%).

90% of those who crossed the channel in the year to March 2023 claimed asylum in the UK, but only 504 (1%) people had received a decision by the end of March 2023. Of those who did receive a decision, 305 (61%) were grants of refugee status or other leave.

3. Some applicants are told: ‘we’ll try to send you elsewhere without looking at your claim’.

As the UK’s involvement in the Dublin III arrangements ended, the government now makes decisions to seek another country’s agreement to process the claim on an individual basis.

Having laid new rules and guidance that came into force at the very end of 2020 the Home Office now issues ‘notices of intent’ telling the applicant it is making enquiries of other countries through which the person seeking asylum has travelled.

From 1st January 2021 to 31st March 2023, 24,083 people were issued with notices of intent to inform them that their case was being reviewed in order to determine whether their removal on inadmissibility grounds was possible.

Not everybody issued with a notice of intent would have been served with a decision, but since 1 January 2021, 83 were subsequently served with inadmissibility decisions, meaning the UK would not admit the asylum claim for consideration in the UK system, because another country was considered to be responsible for the claim, owing to the claimant’s previous presence in or connection to a safe country. Of these, 23 people were returned to a third country. The 23 returns were made to Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

4. Three quarters of asylum claims are granted protection at the initial decision stage.

73% of initial decisions made in the year to March 2023 have been grants of protection, meaning they have been awarded refugee status or humanitarian protection. A total of 17,872 people were granted protection in the year ending March 2023 as a result of an asylum claim, a 32% increase from the previous year when 13,499 people were granted protection.

The Home Office also grants other forms of leave to people who have claimed asylum, as well as grants of protection through the resettlement programmes. Over the last 12 months, 22,648 people were granted status in the UK through the asylum system or resettlement programmes.

5. Refusals are often overturned on appeal.

The proportion of asylum appeals allowed in the year to March 2023 was 43% (almost unchanged from the previous year). The appeal success rate has been steadily increasing over the last decade (up from 29% in 2010).

The quality of decision-making is often poor, with many refugees having to rely on the courts to award protection following an appeal of the government’s initial decision. The appeals process can be complex and lengthy, with people seeking asylum having to wait months for their appeals to be heard.

6. Asylum cases often take years to be resolved.

Thousands of people have to wait years for a final decision on their claim, meaning they are left in limbo and unable to plan for their futures.

The backlog in cases awaiting an initial decision continued to rise to another record high. At the end of March 2023, 172,758 people were waiting for an outcome on their initial claim for asylum, a 57% increase on the number of applications awaiting an initial decision at the March 2022 (109,735 people). Of the 172,758 people awaiting a decision, 75% (128,812 people) have been waiting for more than 6 months.

At the end of March 2023, there were 78,954 legacy cases waiting for a decision relating to 104,049, meaning that the Home Office will need to make nearly 8,700 decisions every month to meet the Prime Minister’s commitment.

7. People seeking asylum receive little financial support and are not allowed to work.

At the end of March 2023, 112,294 people seeking asylum were being supported by the government.

Of these, 51,546 individuals were in receipt of support under Section 98. A further 55,948 were in receipt of Section 95 support and 4,800 people were in receipt of Section 4 support.

People seeking asylum are banned from working and are provided with under £7 per day from the government to cover the costs of their basic necessities. Could you live on under £7 per day?

8. People seeking asylum can be detained indefinitely.

The UK government has the power to detain people who are here seeking refuge. Sometimes this even includes children. There is no maximum time limit in place for people held in detention, meaning people are held indefinitely.

The latest statistics show that there were 1,591 people in detention in immigration removal centres at the end of March 2023. This equates to a 10% increase from the previous year.

The Home Office did not provide data on the number of people who claimed asylum and were detained under the immigration powers between 31 December 2022 and 31 March 2023. This data will be published during the next release.

In the same period, there were 14,737 occurrences of people being released back into the community, indicating flaws in the government’s detention regime.

Despite a government promise in 2010 to end the practice of detaining children, there were 30 occurrences of children entering immigration detention in the year ending March 2023.

9. Unaccompanied children face an uncertain future.

It is not just adults and families who come to the UK in search of safety; unaccompanied children, some as young as under 14 years old, also seek Britain’s protection. In the last 12 months, there were 5,010 applications from unaccompanied children, 8% more than the previous year, accounting for 7% of total asylum applications.

Of the children whose claims were decided in the last 12 months, 84% were granted asylum or another form of leave to remain.

A further 53 unaccompanied children were granted short-term leave to remain which expires after 2.5 years, leaving them uncertain and anxious about their futures.

The top country of origin for applications from unaccompanied children in the last 12 months was Afghanistan. There were 1,535 children from Afghanistan arriving to the UK to seek protection, often taking perilous journeys because there are no safe routes for them to reach safety.

10. Newly granted refugees often face destitution and homelessness.

The moment someone receives a positive decision on their asylum claim should be one of celebration and relief, an end to instability, and the start of a bright future where they are able to establish new lives in the UK. Instead, many newly-recognised refugees experience homelessness and/or destitution, right at this point.

The Home Office provides accommodation on a no-choice basis and subsistence support of £6.43 per day for people seeking asylum if they would otherwise be destitute. But once they are awarded status, this support stops after just 28 days.

Faced with a cliff edge and no support to find new housing, open a bank account, and secure income, among other activities needed before being evicted, many refugees are at significant risk of homelessness and/or destitution.

11. Resettlement only supports a fraction of those in need.

Just 1% of the world’s refugees will ever be resettled anywhere, which means many refugees face a long, uncertain wait to hear if they will ever be able to rebuild their lives in safety.

Currently, the numbers that the UK resettles each year are still much lower than in the years before the pandemic.

There were 1,002 people granted protection through resettlement schemes in the year ending March 2023. This is 659 fewer people than the previous year.

711 people (71% of all those resettled) were resettled through the UK Resettlement scheme (UKRS), with most of the remainder resettled through Community Sponsorship schemes, and a handful through the Mandate Protection Programme.

40 people were resettled under Pathway 2 of the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme.

247 people were resettled under the Community Sponsorship scheme.

4 people were resettled under the Mandate Protection Programme.

The most common nationalities of those resettled were Syrian (44%), Sudanese (14%), and Iraqi (11%).

12. Refugees face huge challenges in reuniting with their separated family.

War and persecution often divide refugees from their families but there are few straightforward, legal ways for refugees to safely join loved ones in Britain.

One of the few safe and regular routes for refugees to join their loved ones in the UK is via refugee family reunion visas. In the year ending March 2023, 4,612 family reunion visas were issued to partners and children of those granted asylum or humanitarian protection in the UK, a 23% decrease compared to the previous year.

The Family Reunion rules are incredibly restrictive. Only spouses and dependent children are eligible to apply for family reunion visas. People who have been granted protection in the UK may be alone, distraught and worried about the safety of their families who may still be in danger. Even unaccompanied children are not allowed to apply for their parents to join them in the UK.

Many people who have sought protection in the UK are not even able to access any refugee family reunion route, including thousands who were evacuated from Afghanistan after the takeover by the Taliban in 2021 and are desperately worried about the safety of their loved ones.

‘Join the campaign for a fair and humane asylum system’, appealed the refugee council, and added:

‘It isn’t too late to create an asylum system in the UK which treats everybody with fairness and humanity, regardless of how they have arrived here.’