UK pins hopes on pilot scheme in Leeds to fast track asylum applications

More than 100,000 cases still awaiting a decision as UK spends £7m a day housing migrants

People disembark from a Border Force ship in Dover, Kent, after a small-boat incident in the Channel. October 14, 2022. PA
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The UK has put its hopes on an immigration system being tested in Leeds to help fast track asylum cases in an attempt to deal with a backlog of more than 100,000 asylum cases.

The trial comes as officials revealed that the nation is spending up to £7 million ($8.11m) a day on housing asylum seekers in centres and hotels and that the figure will rise.

David Neal, independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, said he is hoping that the pilot project taking place in Leeds, West Yorkshire, will help solve the crisis.

He said on average officials dealing with asylum claims were each facing one case a week, but through the training initiative in Leeds this was increasing to four cases a week.

"Leeds is the only pilot model working now in practice to address it," he told the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee.

"Leeds is the pilot and it will grow out of Leeds to eight other locations. That is the answer. What I saw in Leeds is encouraging."

He said the number of case workers has now doubled to 1,090, with a further 139 being recruited this month and a further 101 in November.

Mr Neal said the training needed to be thorough to ensure decisions were not later challenged at the high court, leading to taxpayers' money being spent on legal bills.

On Wednesday, the committee was told that the number of asylum seekers crossing the Channel to the UK on small boats this year has so far reached 38,000.

About 12,000 of them were Albanian migrants, a figure that rose from 800 last year and only 50 in 2020.

Dan O’Mahoney, clandestine Channel threat commander for Border Force, said the “exponential rise” was because of criminal gangs operating in northern France.

"We think it's because Albanian criminal gangs have gained a foothold in northern France," he said.

"There are a large number deliberately gaming the system. There is a large amount of harmful criminality in the UK committed by Albanian criminal gangs, from drug smuggling to human trafficking."

The number of migrants has increased this year despite French patrol vessels stopping twice the number of boats leaving for the UK this year, compared with last year.

The committee was told that of the 28,526 people who made the crossing last year, only 4 per cent of their asylum claims have been processed and 85 per cent of those were successful.

Dan Hobbs, the Home Office’s director of asylum, protection and enforcement, said there was a “challenge in processing asylum claims in a timely way at present” and confirmed only a “small proportion” of last year’s arrivals had been granted asylum.

Jon Featonby, British Red Cross policy and advocacy manager for refugee and asylum Issues, said the UK needs an effective asylum system.

“Behind the shocking evidence shared at the select committee are the real people who have faced traumatic journeys and need support. We need an effective asylum system that gives people decisions quickly, not one that leaves them in limbo," he said.

“The vast majority of people who claim asylum in the UK go on to get refugee status. Not only would making faster decisions allow them to get on with their lives, but they’d also spend far less time relying on Home Office accommodation. This would reduce the overall cost of the system and help to ensure people get the support they need.

“We also know from our work that people only take dangerous journeys across the Channel if they feel they have no other options. That’s why it’s so important that safe routes exist to allow people to claim asylum and reduce the number of people attempting to cross the Channel.”

Updated: October 27, 2022, 1:46 PM