UK asylum claims hit 20-year high as more than 50,000 gain leave to stay

Home Secretary says government fulfilled its promise while Labour says outstanding cases remain too high

Backlogs remain in the UK immigration system, with about 100,000 people whose applications were made after June 2022 still in the system. PA
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British officials tripled the number of asylum cases processed in 2023 as the government sought to clear a backlog of 98,000 people who waited for years to be guaranteed a safe haven in the UK.

The “record high” number of cases processed resulted in 51,469 people being granted the right to live in the UK after more 112,000 cases were processed during the year, the highest number in more than two decades.

Home Secretary James Cleverly said the government had “done what we promised” to deal with a backlog of older cases in the asylum system, after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged to “abolish” the outstanding older applications by the end of 2023.

“You can see our track record of delivery. We have delivered over 112,000 applications this year,” he said. “There are fewer than that left in the system.”

Anti-immigration politician and prominent Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage said the approval of more than 51,000 applications was a sign the government had failed.

The opposition Labour Party has accused the government of manipulating the figures as about 4,537 asylum cases out of the backlog of 98,599 have yet to be finalised amid an increase of two thirds in the number of withdrawn applications.

Labour’s shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock said no “slicing or renaming the figures can disguise” that the asylum backlog had “rocketed under the Tories”.

The government also claimed its work was gathering pace. According to the Home Office, 20,481 initial asylum decisions were reached in the four weeks from November 20, 2023, to December 17, 2023, more than the total for all of 2021.

Despite the increase in the processing of cases, backlogs remain in the immigration system. About 100,000 people whose applications were made after June 2022 are still in the system, with many residing in hotels.

Reducing the number of asylum seekers arriving by boat

The Home Secretary said a reduction in the number of asylum seekers entering the UK on small boats had also taken place last year, with 602 small boats detected crossing the English Channel, compared with 1,110 in 2022.

Small boat crossings from mainland Europe to Britain in 2023 resulted in the unauthorised arrival of 29,437 people on the south-east English coast, a 36 per cent reduction in arrivals last year, after a record 45,000 migrants made the journey in 2022.

Mr Cleverly shot down claims that the weather was behind the reduction.

“There were 102 good sailing days this year, 106 sailing days last year, so the weather is not a contributory factor,” he said.

“The number of good sailing days this year was only four fewer than the previous year.”

The reduction, the government said, could be attributed to several factors, including co-operation with European partners such as France, Albania, Romania and Germany, and an increase in voluntary and forced returns of asylum seekers.

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“There has been a 66 per cent increase in voluntary returns,” he said. “This is where, basically, we’ve said to people, 'Look, you’re not going to get asylum. You should go home'.”

On the removal of undocumented workers, the Home Secretary said the government had been proactive in locating them.

“We go looking at places where we know people work illegally so often – in the clothing trade, sometimes in the restaurant trade, in the building trade,” Mr Cleverly said.

“We know where these people go and typically work, often cash in hand, often undocumented. We go and find them and we remove them.”

Updated: January 02, 2024, 1:22 PM