Asylum seekers waiting months for claims to be processed feel they are in 'prison'

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Dan Rivers

There are many aspects of life which have been put on hold by this pandemic - but for asylum seekers waiting for their claims to be processed here, it has meant their entire future has been left hanging in the balance, as the backlog in the system reaches epic proportions.

The latest figures for the year ending September show an astonishing 60,548 cases awaiting a decision - with 76% of those having already waited more than six months.

For people like Stella, who fled her country because she was persecuted for her sexuality, it means her entire life is on hold.

She is prevented from working, so has to survive on only the meagre hand outs of food and £8 week a from the Home Office. But what is so corrosive for her mental health is the uncertainly.

Stella has been waiting for two years.

She has been waiting two years and despite her persistent attempts to get clarity on her case, she remains in limbo.

She described to me the toll on her state of mind, knowing that any day her claim may be rejected and she may be sent back to face torture or an arranged marriage in her country of origin.

Again and again, asylum seekers I spoke to described the depression, anxiety and even suicidal thoughts that result from months and years of their life on hold, their future hanging in the balance.

Many are accommodated in hotels across the country, where often conditions are unsuitable.

Families with small children crammed into single rooms without any distractions for their youngsters and food that many find inedible.

15-year-old Lawen says he would have stayed in Iraq if he'd have known how he would be living in the UK

The Home Office acknowledges the delays, but says the pandemic has made face to face assessments of cases impossible.

Minister for immigration compliance Chris Philp promises new legislation will be bought forward in the coming months to speed up the system, but that is little consolation for asylum seekers who've already been waiting for months, like 15 year old Lawen from Iraq.

His family fled so-called Islamic State and he describes their situation in the UK as "really bad, it's like being in prison not a hotel".

His family crossed the Channel in small boats after an arduous journey across Europe.

"We came here to the UK for a better life - we didn't know it would be like this, if we knew... we wouldn't have come here."