UK fears permanent backlog of asylum claims could cost £6.4bn a year

Report says new measures will leave refugees stuck in limbo

An inflatable craft carrying migrants crosses the shipping lane in the English Channel on August 4, 2022. Getty Images
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The UK could be left with a permanent backlog of asylum seekers as a result of new measures meant to tackle illegal immigration, a report claims.

The Illegal Migration Act prevents anyone arriving by irregular means, such as small boats, from claiming asylum, but the Institute for Public Policy Research says this could end up costing the UK £6.38 billion ($8.14 billion) a year in accommodation costs.

The new legislation is meant to be coupled with a plan to send migrants who arrive by boat to Rwanda to claim asylum there, which the government hopes will act as a deterrent.

The Rwanda plan has been ruled unlawful and the government has appealed to the Supreme Court to get approval so it can attempt to fulfil Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s promise to “stop the boats”, one of his five key pledges.

The IPPR said that “there is there is so far little evidence that the Rwanda plans or the government’s legislative efforts have made any real impact on arrivals”.

That will lead to what the left-of-centre think tank says will be a build-up of asylum seekers caught in “legal limbo”, who cannot be granted refugee status but must be housed because it is unlikely they can be removed.

To fulfil its pledge of clearing what is described as the "legacy backlog" of about 100,000 claims made before June 2022, the Home Office will need to process 12,400 a month, three times the current rate, even before it tackles the backlog.

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“The end result will therefore be a growing ‘perma-backlog’ of people who are not formally within the asylum system, because their claims will be deemed inadmissible, but who are seeking refuge in the UK,” said the IPPR report.

Marley Morris, the report’s author who leads the think tank’s work on migration, said: “Frankly, even if the Rwanda case goes the government’s way, then it’ still going to be very difficult to make this act work because the window of success is so narrow for them.

“Not only does the court case go their way and have the system in place that removes people to Rwanda at scale and deters people, but at the moment we know people aren’t deterred because there’s thousands of people arriving.

“The idea that you can remove thousands of people each year to a country which is not used to dealing with these types of asylum claims on this scale is pretty far-fetched.

"Unless the government removes more people than come then inevitably there will be this backlog because they can’t process the claims.”

The IPPR calculates that in five years’ time, assuming there are low levels of removal, there will be 226,600 migrants in accommodation at an annual cost of £6.4bn to the UK taxpayer.

Currently, the government is looking to house migrants at disused military bases and on a barge to save on hotel costs.

“But it could end up costing more because under the current system, yes, you’ve got big costs but people are either removed or people are able to work, but under the current system they’re stuck,” said Mr Marley.

“But this could end up costing billions of pounds in accommodation costs with no end in sight.”

The IPPR also raised the prospect of asylum seekers disappearing off the radar to “enter the informal economy, given there is little incentive to stay visible to the Home Office if there is no prospect of their asylum claim being processed”.

“This could lead to a growing undocumented population and a high risk of irregular working, destitution, and exploitation.”

It comes amid reports smugglers running Channel crossings are sending groups of small boats to sea at the same time to make it more difficult for authorities to stop them all.

“The Illegal Migration Act will help to clear the asylum backlog by allowing us to detain and swiftly remove those who arrive here illegally," a Home Office representative said.

"While we operationalise the measures in the Act, we continue to remove those with no right to be here through existing powers.

“We are also on track to clear the ‘legacy’ backlog of asylum cases.

"It has been reduced by a nearly a third since the start of December and we have doubled the number of asylum decision-makers in post over the past two years.”

Updated: August 22, 2023, 4:37 AM