Tens of thousands of migrants are waiting more than a year for a decision on their asylum claim, with hundreds waiting over five years, figures show.
The number of people waiting for an initial decision on their asylum application to the UK almost quadrupled in the last five years from 29,522 in December 2017 to 122,206 in June 2022, according to Home Office data obtained by the Refugee Council under freedom of information laws.
The figure was 64,891 in December 2020, meaning it nearly doubled in 18 months.
A third of the applicants (40,913) have been waiting between one and three years while 725 people, including 155 children, have been “living in limbo waiting for a decision” for more than five years, the charity said.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman has been under increasing pressure to fix the UK’s asylum system, which she and her predecessor Priti Patel described as “broken”.
The government is spending £6.8 million a day housing migrants in hotels and Home Office figures published in August showed the cost of the UK’s asylum system topped £2 billion a year for the first time, with the highest number of claims for two decades and record delays for people awaiting a decision.
At the time the Home Office announced it was setting up an action group to look at how to speed up the processing of asylum claims in a bid to increase the number of decisions made on cases on a weekly basis.
Enver Solomon, the charity’s chief executive, said: “Immediate action should be taken to address the huge backlog of men, women and children stuck in limbo while waiting years for a decision on their asylum claim, costing millions of pounds a day accommodating them in often poor quality hotels.
“These people came to the UK in search of safety, but they are being condemned to years of worry and uncertainty, with a grave toll on their mental health, instead of being able to put down roots in their new community and rebuild their lives.”
The Refugee Council called on ministers to introduce a range of measures to tackle the problem, including:
Establishing a taskforce dedicated to clearing the backlog and setting a target date for when the backlog will be cleared
Providing enough staff to make decisions
Prioritising vulnerable people in the system and those who have waiting for more than two years.
One asylum seeker – known by the pseudonym Abu to protect his identity – who has been in a hotel in Yorkshire for nearly a year said he feels like he is “useless” while awaiting a decision on his asylum claim.
He fled Sudan in October 2021, leaving his family behind, after being arrested when he took part in demonstrations during the military coup to overthrow the government, the charity said.
Abu said: “I started even questioning, if I am useful person?
“When you… see how they are treating Ukrainian people, compare that, people say that it’s because they are European, and we are not European, it make you feel like we are not a priority…
“Should I escape or should I face death back home in Sudan? It’s kind of making you question yourself.”
Mr Solomon said there are “clear steps this government could take immediately to address this situation – we are keen to work constructively to help it do so”, adding that the “untold human misery this situation causes is simply unsustainable” as well as being a huge cost to the public purse.
He warned that without action, next year there is “likely to be another appalling episode” like the overcrowding at the Manston migrant processing centre in Kent, and said: “We urgently need to move to a fair, orderly and compassionate asylum system that always sees the face behind the case and deals with claims in a timely and effective manner.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “The number of people arriving in the UK who seek asylum has reached record levels and continues to put our asylum system under incredible pressure.
“We are doing everything we can to address this issue, we have increased the number of caseworkers by 80% to more than 1,000, and a successful pilot scheme has seen the average number of asylum claims processed by caseworkers double, which we are now is being rolling this out across the country.
“We are also working to prioritise applications from children and young people where possible, whilst we increase overall decision maker numbers, improve training and career progression opportunities to aid retention of staff and capacity.”
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