More than 50,000 asylum seekers have been waiting longer than six months for the UK government to decide their fate, it has emerged.
The number of people enduring a six-month wait or longer has risen by 59 per cent over the past year.
“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 UK Refugee Council said.
“Each one of these represents a person anxiously awaiting news of their fate, with no idea how much longer they will be forced to live in poverty.”
The UK government said the Covid-19 pandemic had affected the operational capacity of Britain's immigration system and led to fewer decisions being made.
The total backlog of asylum seekers waiting for news was 66,185 people, of whom 50,084 had waited at least six months.
“This has been happening when the numbers of people who seek safety in the UK is in fact decreasing,” said Refugee Council chief executive Enver Solomon.
There were about 27,000 new asylum applications in the UK in the year ended March 2021, a drop of nearly a quarter from the previous year.
As the pandemic led to drastic travel restrictions across the world, the numbers of work visas, student visas and family permits granted in the UK were all down as well.
The asylum applicants included 1,200 people from Iran, 1,086 from Iraq, 315 from Syria and 236 from Afghanistan. More than 500 were stateless.
Some applied for asylum at ports of entry in the UK, but the majority lodged applications from their home countries.
A total of 8,640 people were granted some form of asylum, humanitarian protection or resettlement.
Patel eyes controversial asylum overhaul
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel told Parliament in March that "the system is becoming overwhelmed" as she unveiled controversial plans which would make it harder for asylum seekers to get permanent status in Britain.
“Our system is collapsing under the pressure of parallel illegal routes to asylum, facilitated by criminal smugglers,” she said.
“The existence of parallel routes is deeply unfair, advancing those with the means to pay smugglers over those in desperate need.”
Under the plans, seekers would be denied permanent status in the UK if they enter illegally from another safe country such as France.
Those who cannot be deported would be given a temporary protection status and could be removed at a later date.
The planned changes have been described as inhumane by the British Red Cross.
"We should not judge how worthy someone is of asylum by how they arrived here," the charity’s chief executive Mike Adamson said.