UK asylum claims reach two-decade high

Peak comes with officials struggling to clear soaring backlog of cases

There were 48,540 asylum applications in the UK in 2021. Getty
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The number of asylum claims made in the UK has climbed to its highest in nearly two decades, while the backlog of cases waiting to be determined continues to soar.

The latest immigration figures were published as calls increased for the UK government to set out plans for its humanitarian response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and demands for it to expand its efforts on welcoming refugees fleeing persecution.

There were 48,540 asylum applications – relating to 56,495 people – in the UK in 2021, up 63 per cent on the previous year and the highest for a calendar year since 2003.

The increase was most "likely linked in part to the easing of global travel restrictions that were in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and to a sharp increase in small boat arrivals to the UK" the Home Office said.

At the end of 2021, there were 81,978 cases awaiting an initial decision, 60 per cent higher than the previous year and about 12 times the 6,800 at the end of 2011.

There were 125,216 cases in the asylum system as of June 2021, up from 109,456 in June 2020 and more than three times the 37,903 in June 2011, the latest available data shows.

"These figures illustrate an asylum system struggling to cope as increasing numbers of applicants find themselves in limbo," said Marley Morris, from think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research.

... it is critical that [the UK] has an asylum system that is fit for purpose
Marley Morris, IPPR

"Applications are taking much longer to process. At the same time, the UK government's resettlement schemes appear lacklustre after the pause in 2020, despite Covid-19 restrictions now all being lifted.

"With the humanitarian crisis continuing to unfold in Afghanistan and Russia invading Ukraine this week, the UK has a duty to expand its efforts to welcome refugees fleeing war and persecution.

"This means it is critical that it has an asylum system that is fit for purpose. The government must set out plans for its humanitarian response to the war in Ukraine, ramp up its resettlement programmes, and invest in a fast and effective asylum process."

Successful UK asylum claims double in a year

The number of people offered protection in the UK last year – in the form of asylum, resettlement and other types of leave – was 14,734. This is up 49 per cent on 2020, when figures were affected by the start of the pandemic when resettlement schemes were paused and fewer decisions made on applications. This is below the total for 2019 and similar to levels in 2015-2018.

There were 13,147 people granted protection after an asylum claim in 2021, up 45 per cent on the 9,072 in 2020 but below the 15,080 in 2019.

Almost three quarters (72 per cent) of the initial decisions in 2021 were grants – the highest rate in more than 30 years, since 82 per cent in 1990.

The rise in grant rate is "in part because of the low number of third-country refusals (affected by the UK leaving the EU), although the overall grant rate can vary for a number of reasons", the Home Office report said.

Meanwhile, 2,830 people were deported from the UK in the year to September 2021 – 61 per cent fewer than pre-pandemic levels in 2019. The vast majority of enforced returns were for foreign offenders.

The release also confirms the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme relocated its first person on January 6, 2022, after opening at the start of the year – almost six months after it was launched when Taliban forces took control of Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, in August.

Updated: February 24, 2022, 2:52 PM