UK asylum claims hit 20-year high amid record backlog

UK Home Office struggling to keep up with the number of new asylum applications

Migrants walk ashore in Dungeness, Kent, after being rescued from the English Channel by the Dungeness Lifeboat on Thursday. PA
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The number of asylum claims being made in the UK is at its highest level for two decades, with a record backlog of people waiting for a decision.

The 63,089 applications in the year to June 2022 is the highest number for any 12-month period since the year to June 2003, when 71,316 applications were made, a Home Office report says.

Officials are understood to be working hard to reduce the backlog of outstanding claims but are struggling to keep up with new applications.

Official figures show 23,458 people have arrived in the UK after crossing busy shipping lanes from France in small boats so far in 2022.

The statistics come from Home Office data to June and provisional Ministry of Defence figures from July 1.

In the first six months of this year more than half of small-boat arrivals were Albanians (18 per cent), Afghans (18 per cent) and Iranians (15 per cent).

A growing number of people fleeing Afghanistan are risking their lives to reach the UK on small boats, and are at risk of being sent to Rwanda after arriving.

That number has increased since the Taliban took over Kabul in August 2021.

There were 2,066 Afghan arrivals between January and June 2022, compared with only 247 from January to June 2021.

For the whole of 2021 there were 1,437 Afghan arrivals, 494 in 2020, 69 in 2019 and three in 2018, the figures showed.

France is demanding £93 million ($110 million) from Britain to bolster policing of the Channel coast, according to French newspaper Le Figaro. The paper reported that negotiations between Paris and London had ground to a halt over the upcoming change of prime minister, and also said Britain was seeking “solid guarantees” over how the money would be used.

Over the past four years the UK has paid more than £84 million to the French to cover part-time police officers patrolling the coast, barriers around Calais port and CCTV and night-vision cameras.

Migrant crossings on the English Channel surge during heatwave – in pictures

Other figures published on Thursday show that more than 11,300 Afghan refugees have received indefinite leave to stay in the UK under two visa schemes set up for them.

These are the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap) for current and former locally employed staff, and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS).

Those arriving by small boats are not eligible for these visas but can claim asylum, and most do so.

But officials say they could be taken to Rwanda under the agreement struck by Home Secretary Priti Patel four months ago in an attempt to curb the number of Channel crossings.

Under the deal, the East African country will receive migrants the UK considers to have arrived illegally and are therefore inadmissible under new immigration rules.

The Home Office figures also show that there were just over 5,000 applications for asylum from Afghans in the year to June 2022.

Nearly 700 migrants cross English Channel beating 2022 record - in pictures

Ms Patel said she was “incredibly proud” that almost 21,500 people, including British citizens, have been moved to safety from Afghanistan.

“One year on, our work to help Afghans resettled in the UK has not stopped," she said.

"There are still weekly flights, our resettlement schemes remain open and we will be welcoming thousands more people to our country."

Dr Peter William Walsh, senior researcher at the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said refugees had “vastly different experiences” depending on where they are coming from.

“Most Afghan refugees cannot access the UK resettlement schemes, and there is no way to apply to them," Dr Walsh said.

“That explains why a substantial number of Afghans are coming through the asylum system despite the prospect of long waiting times and recent policies designed to deter asylum seekers.

“By contrast, where there have been legal routes to seek protection in the UK as in the Ukraine and Hong Kong cases, people have been keen to take them up.”

Marley Morris, associate director at the British think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research, said: “Despite the government’s claims to support Afghan refugees, many believe they are being left with no option but to attempt the dangerous journey across the Channel.

“These figures make clear that the asylum system needs urgent reform.

"The government should ramp up safe and legal routes, speed up asylum decision making, and drop its inhumane plans to relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda.”

Afghan migrant documents dangerous journey across Channel - video

Afghan migrant documents dangerous journey across Channel

Afghan migrant documents dangerous journey across Channel

The latest asylum figures show the most applications came from Iranians (10,752).

The second highest number was from Albanians, with 7,267 made in the year to June and a grant rate of 53 per cent.

Third were 6,824 Iraqis, followed by 5,024 Afghans and 4,711 Eritreans.

Officials believe the high grant rate for Albanians — possibly caused by more vulnerable people including women and children being processed — is likely to change as the recent increase in small boats arrivals is processed.

The vast majority of Albanians who entered the system in the past six months, thought to be mainly young men, are yet to receive a decision.

Almost 6,000 Albanians are thought to have crossed the Channel to the UK so far this year after numbers increased substantially over the past few months.

Albanians were rarely seen on migrant boats arriving on the south coast before this year but officials now believe this is the dominant nationality in the crossings, with numbers growing rapidly.

About 2,165 were recorded as arriving between January and June 2022, compared with just 23 detected in the same period the previous year, the Home Office report said.

UK announces plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda - video

UK announces plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda

UK announces plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda

Ms Patel struck a deal with the Albanian government to increase policing and fast-track removals to tackle crossings.

Officials say between 50 per cent and 60 per cent of arrivals are now thought to be from the south-eastern European country, many of whom recently were young men.

“The number of Albanians arriving on small boats has increased substantially over the last quarter. Prior to this point, Albanians were not commonly detected on small boats," the Home Office findings said.

Albanian asylum seekers are regarded by officials as the biggest challenge, after just under 60 per cent of the record-breaking number of 1,295 migrants who arrived in Kent on Monday were believed to be from there.

Tackling the growing numbers is said to be a high priority for the Home Office and the National Crime Agency, with the recent rise also understood to be an increasing focus for the security services, which are monitoring the issue closely.

UK officials do not know what is behind the surge but believe it could be prompted by organised crime and driven by families looking to reunite.

“Members report the working hypothesis that the recent increases in Albanians is to replace those who have been arrested, imprisoned and or deported as a result of increased police activity in the organised crime sphere," said Lucy Moreton, from the ISU union that represents Border Force officers.

“This is a hypothesis only but does make sense.”

Migrant channel crossing incidents continue in Kent - in pictures

Albanian officials are reportedly embarrassed by the numbers crossing. A delegation is due to arrive next week to discuss how the two countries can tackle the rising numbers.

As part of the agreement between Ms Patel and Bledi Cuci, Albania’s minister for interior affairs, Albanian police are to be sent to ports to work alongside UK authorities, providing intelligence and observing migrants being processed.

It is hoped the operation will begin within days of the delegation’s visit.

The pair have also pledged to speed up removals of Albanians with no right to be in the UK from next week.

Fewer than 1,000 Albanian offenders have been deported from the UK since a removals agreement was signed last year.

But under the latest plans, Albanians will have their asylum applications fast tracked and those with unsuccessful claims could be put on flights within weeks.

The Home Office is also focusing on people in northern France and Belgium, and those who “meet certain criteria, such as being away from home”.

It is placing advertisements in Albanian on Facebook and Instagram to try to deter people from making the crossing.

This comes after officials saw a rise in adverts promoting Channel crossings over the past month, including some offering discounts for children and disabled people.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the charity had worked with many Albanian refugees who had been trafficked and were victims of criminal and sexual exploitation.

“It’s important to recognise that more than half of Albanians who claim asylum in the UK are given refugee protection, which speaks volumes about the clear dangers they are facing," Mr Solomon said.

“Just because a country is not at war does not mean that it is safe for all who live there.”

More than 200 migrants cross English Channel after pause in journeys - video

More than 200 migrants cross English Channel after pause in journeys

More than 200 migrants cross English Channel after pause in journeys

The government is also seeing increases in claims from nationalities that have traditionally had a high proportion of applications granted because of instability in their home countries.

More than 90 per cent of applications from Afghan, Eritrean, Syrian and Sudanese asylum seekers are granted.

At the end of June 2022, 117,945 people were waiting for an initial decision on their asylum application. This was up 66 per cent on a year earlier, when 70,905 people were waiting.

It is more than double the number in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic (51,906) and a record high since current records began in June 2010.

At the end of June, 85,917 people had been waiting more than six months for an initial decision on their application.

This is up 59 per cent from 54,040 a year earlier and this is also the highest number on record.

Of the 50,297 people who arrived on small boats between January 2018 and June 2022, 94 per cent (47,306) applied for asylum.

But only a small proportion have been processed.

Of those who have so far received an initial decision (6,910), 49 per cent were granted asylum or another type of leave.

“The government urgently needs to focus on making the UK asylum system more accessible and efficient — reducing not adding to delays, ensuring the quality of decision-making and providing safe alternatives to unsafe Channel crossings — so people receive the protection to which they are entitled as quickly as possible,” said Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director.

What's it like for a migrant to cross the channel by boat? - video

What's it like for a migrant to cross the channel by boat?

What's it like for a migrant to cross the channel by boat?

Meanwhile, campaigners called on the candidates to be the next prime minister, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, to commit to lifting a ban on asylum seekers working while they await the outcome of their claim.

The Lift the Ban Coalition said people who had made a claim should be allowed to work after six months of waiting for a decision.

“The significant increase of people making dangerous small boat crossings continues to pressurise the UK’s asylum system and our ability to make timely casework decisions," said Illegal Migration Minister Simon Baynes.

“Anyone who is travelling through safe countries to reach the UK should claim asylum there instead of giving money to evil criminal gangs.

“Our New Plan for Immigration, including our Migration and Economic Development Partnership with Rwanda, will fix the broken system, crack down on those who enter illegally and allow us to support those in genuine need.”

Updated: August 26, 2022, 11:33 AM