The number of people in the UK waiting for a decision on their asylum claims has risen to a record high, latest Home Office figures show.
More than 175,000 people were waiting for a decision on whether they will be granted refugee status at the end of June 2023 – up 44% from last year.
In December 2022, PM Rishi Sunak set a target of clearing the so-called legacy backlog by the end of the year.
Officials have cleared on average 2,061 cases a month since then.
With 67,870 cases remaining, the Home Office will have to process 11,311 cases per month if it is to meet its target.
The legacy backlog refers to the asylum applications lodged before June 2022.
The number of cases awaiting decision refers to main claimants, while the number of people also includes any family members or other dependents.
The figures also show in the year ending June 2023:
- 78,768 asylum claims were made relating to 97,390 people – up by almost a fifth in a year and the highest number in two decades
- The number of claims being withdrawn – meaning they are ended by asylum seekers or officials – has rocketed from 4,044 cases last year to 15,244
- A total of 1,438,471 visas were issued – up 28% from 1,125,155 in the year to June 2022
- Government spending on asylum in the UK has almost doubled – from £2.12bn in 2021-22 to £3.97bn in 2022-23
An asylum seeker is a person who flees their home country, enters another country and applies for the right to international protection and to stay in that country.
In the UK, asylum seekers are not allowed to work, and must rely on state support. Housing is provided, but asylum seekers cannot choose where it is.
Two asylum seekers, both from African countries, spoke to the BBC about their experiences in the asylum system.
Rose (not her real name), a single mother who arrived in the UK from Cameroon in August 2019, has been waiting four years for her asylum claim to be processed.
Rose has enrolled on a college course in IT and hopes to work in computing, but – like all asylum seekers – cannot be employed until her refugee status is confirmed.
“I struggle with not knowing what the future holds,” she said, adding that she suffers with anxiety and depression.
She and her friend Mohammed are members of the same youth group for asylum seekers set up by the London-based charity Praxis.
They both arrived in the UK on visitor visas before claiming asylum.
Mohammed said he came to the UK because he faced discrimination in Ghana as a bisexual man.
“I chose to come to Britain because Britain is the most protective country,” he said.
“Going to a different European country I might face racism. It will be less in this country,” he said.
The Home Office said it was “on track” to clear the legacy backlog, and that the number of withdrawn claims had increased because of “our efforts to clear the asylum backlog”.
“[They] occur for a number of reasons including where someone has already left the UK before their claim was considered or they choose to pursue another application for permission to stay,” a spokesperson said.The number of cases awaiting an initial decision has increased by less than 1% over the three months to June 2023, which the Home Office said indicated a “slowdown in the rise of the backlog”.
A Home Office spokesperson said the department remained committed to reducing levels of immigration, adding that the system was working to encourage the “best and the brightest” to come to the UK.
But Labour said the latest migration figures showed the government had “lost control” of the immigration system.
“This legacy thing is just ridiculous because they’ve been in power for 13 years and the backlog has built up,” shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock said.
Dr Peter William Walsh, senior researcher at the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said the backlog remained “stubbornly high”, despite falling numbers of asylum claims and more asylum caseworkers in the Home Office.
“It’s becoming harder to see how the government can meet its pledge to eliminate the so-called ‘legacy backlog’ of older claims by the end of the year, as the rate of decision-making would have to be more than doubled,” he said.
The figures also show some 44,460 people were recorded as having arrived by small boats in the year to June 2023, up 26% from the same period last year.
More than half of these arrived in the three months from August to October 2022. August last year saw the highest number of arrivals of any month since data was collected.
Albanian and Afghan nationals accounted for almost half of small boat arrivals in the year to June – 26% and 21% respectively.
The number of Afghans arriving on small boats has been increasing since summer 2021, when the Taliban took over the country, and make up the most common nationality so far in 2023, the Home Office said.
There are two resettlement schemes open to Afghan nationals – the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, for citizens who were employed by the British government in Afghanistan and fear reprisals from the Taliban, and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), which prioritises women and children as well as religious and other minorities.
Under the ACRS, 233 people were resettled in the UK in the year to June, the figures show.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) UK said the numbers “reveal the shocking reality of the government’s failure to provide protection for vulnerable Afghans”, adding that there are not enough safe routes for refugees from countries like Afghanistan.
“The majority of the almost 10,000 Afghans seeking safety in the UK were forced to make dangerous journeys across the channel,” said Laura Kyrke-Smith, IRC’s executive director.
A government spokesperson said “there are safe and legal routes to come here”, calling the ACRS scheme “generous”.