The desperately slow processing of asylum claims has pushed the number of people waiting for a decision passed 160,000, figures released today by the Government show.
The figures were released as Refugee Action said the Government’s plan to get a grip on the backlog contained serious flaws.
The plan – announced this morning – gives people from five countries with high rates of asylum acceptance 20 days to fill out a questionnaire rather than attend an interview with a Home Office decision maker.
However, the form – now critical to people’s asylum claim – is only available in English. The Government has advised people to use “online translation tools” to complete it, which must be done within 20 days, or their asylum claim may be withdrawn.
People are also being asked questions that could undermine their asylum claim if not properly understood – and all without legal support.
There are also huge concerns about people who are not from the five countries identified – or the tens of thousands whose claim has been removed from the asylum system because of how they arrived in the UK.
Refugee Action has called on Ministers to deal with all asylum claims quickly and accurately and give discretionary leave to anyone who has waited more than a year for a decision on their claim.
The charity has also called on the Government to end its policy of inadmissibility, which removes the right to claim asylum from people depending on how they entered the country and which flies in the face of human rights and refugee law.
Figures released today show that at the end of 2022 there were 161,000 people waiting for a decision on their asylum claim. Of these, 110,000 (68%) had been waiting more than six months – a number that’s increased every year for eight years.
The time people must wait to secure some form of protection from the Government is being increased not only by slow decision making, but bad decision making, which result in people needing to launch appeal decisions.
The figures released today revealed that 51% of the 3,815 who appealed a negative decision were successful at appeal. Such a high rate of incorrect decisions further clogs up the system.
Refugee Action supports one man, 23, who has been waiting five years for a decision on his claim. He comes from Sudan, a country where 84% of people who apply for asylum receive refugee status due to widespread violence and human rights abuses but will not be able to apply under the new scheme announced today.
He said: “The Home Office has forgotten me, and I don’t exist to them.
“Almost five years of my life has wasted away. I’m angry at myself and this situation. Time flies, and I feel useless. I am in limbo. At this stage, I don’t even mind if I get a refusal; at least I get a decision, and I can act.”
The growing number of people unable to leave the asylum system means more people seeking asylum are being abandoned and detained in segregated hotel accommodation.
Figures released today by the Government reveal that 49,000 people are now receiving S98 asylum support, the type of support received by people in hotels. This has doubled from the 24,000 last year.
Hotels are inappropriate long-term accommodation. Refugee Action supports families who have been in a hotel room for more than a year, with children unable to access education easily or play, people who cannot decide what their families eat and are forced to consume food that results in ill health, rooms inspected without notice, restrictions on movement, and rodent infestations and mould.
Meanwhile, people left in hotels are being increasingly targeted by far-right violence, such as in Knowsley two weeks ago, which is putting the safety and mental health of refugees at risk.
This month the charity released a set of six principles that must be met when people are accommodated. Housing must be safe, private, connected, stable, build independence and reflect and respond to people’s needs.
Hotel accommodation does not meet any of these standards.
Refugee Action supports one mother of three children who all live in a single hotel room.
She said: “They don’t have space to be a child and do normal things other children do. They are frustrated. No children should ever force to live in such condition and deprived from being child.
“The food in hotel is awful and disgusting: my children can’t eat them, so many nights they slept hungry. Uncooked and smelly meats. For example, salads they offer is not washed. It’s almost unbearable.”
Refugee Action is calling for a ban on the use of hotels or any other similar accommodation – barracks, repurposed holiday camps, reception centres – and for people to be housed in the community and Government to work better with local authorities to achieve this.
Tim Naor Hilton, Chief Executive at Refugee Action, said:
“The Government’s new plan to speed up decision making shows it doesn’t need to condemn people to years in a cruel asylum system. While it’s good there is an attempt to tackle the backlog – there are serious flaws in this plan.
“It’s riddled with risk, not least because people will have 20 days to complete their application in English without an interpreter or legal support or face having their claim withdrawn. An answer to a question that’s not been properly understood could easily destroy someone’s application.
“We also have huge concerns about what the future holds for people who are not from the five countries identified – or the tens of thousands whose claim has been removed from the asylum system because of how they arrived in the UK.
“The asylum system must be fair, compassionate and treat people equally and with dignity. This means scrapping inadmissibility, dealing with all asylum claims quickly and accurately, and giving discretionary leave to anyone who has waited more than a year for a decision on their claim.”