Government statistics show record backlog and concerning decline in safe routes, as controversial plan to speed up some claims is announced - Refugee Council
February 23, 2023

Government statistics show record backlog and concerning decline in safe routes, as controversial plan to speed up some claims is announced

The Government has published immigration statistics for the year ending December 2022. These provide figures for asylum applications, decisions, asylum support and resettlement.


Record backlog

The backlog in claims has hit a record high, with over 160,000 people waiting for an initial decision. This is over triple the number at the end of 2019. 68% of these people have been waiting for over six months. Long waits have a hugely damaging impact on refugees, who find themselves stuck in limbo, living in hotels and unable to work or move on with their lives.


Announcement around fast-tracking of 5 nationalities

These stats come on the same day as a new government announcement about plans to reduce the backlog in asylum claims by fast-tracking 12,000 applicants from 5 nationalities with high grant rates (Eritrea, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen). While reducing the backlog should be a top priority, these plans fail to meaningfully address it and put people at risk of having their application withdrawn, with the Refugee Council denouncing the “bureaucratic hurdles”.


Decline in safe routes

The figures show that the number of refugees arriving in the UK via safe routes has decreased: safe routes include resettlement (with only 1,185 people resettled in 2022, 79% fewer than in 2019) and family reunion (with only 4,473 family reunion visas issued in 2022, a 27% decrease from 2021).

A damning report published earlier this week by the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration (ICIBI) showed that ineffective family reunion processes were putting vulnerable people at risk, with thousands of refugee women and children stuck in dangerous situations outside the UK while their loved ones wait to bring them to safety.


Increase in Channel crossings

As a consequence of safe routes being so limited, ineffective and unfit for purpose, the number of people crossing the Channel in small boats increased by 60% – with 45,755 people making the dangerous journey to reach the UK. The new figures give a breakdown by nationality of those who crossed the Channel, with nearly half (48%) of small boat arrivals from just five nationalities – Afghan (20%), Iranian (13%), Syrian (7%), Eritrean (4%) and Sudanese (4%). These countries all have high grant rates (above 80%).

No Ukrainians are recorded as having crossed the Channel, despite the Russian invasion which started a year ago driving hundreds of thousands from their homes. This illustrates how valuable safe routes such as Ukrainian schemes are. Offering visa schemes allowed the UK to bring Ukrainians over safely and offer them protection in this country. Over 200,000 Ukrainian visas have been issued so far.


Upcoming legislation

Recent analysis from the Refugee Council has shown that Government proposals to remove the right to claim asylum from those crossing on boats would lead to thousands of people living in limbo and potentially being locked up in detention at huge cost of hundreds of millions of pounds to the taxpayer. The new legislation is expected in March, and would amount to breaking the UK’s commitment to the Refugee Convention. Under the convention, anyone fleeing war, persecution or conflict has the right to claim asylum on the soil of a signatory to the Convention.

Today’s figures clearly show that the majority of people coming across the Channel are fleeing war-torn, oppressive countries and have no other way of getting to the UK to ask for protection.


Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said:

“It’s alarming that the asylum backlog has now hit the highest recorded level with over 160,000 men, women and children left in limbo awaiting a decision. We know from our work how damaging long waits are on those who find themselves stuck in poor quality hotels, costing £5million a day, and unable to work or move on with their lives.

“The fact that nearly all those who crossed the Channel in 2022, risking their lives in search of protection in the UK, have still not received a decision on their case is a damning indictment of the state of the asylum system which is increasingly chaotic and disorderly.

“At the same time the reduction in the number of refugees arriving in the UK via safe routes, such as resettlement and family reunion clearly shows the need to expand these pathways to safety, so people from countries such as Afghanistan and Sudan are no longer forced to make a dangerous journey across the busiest shipping lane in the world. The fact that the number of Afghans coming across the Channel increased six-fold but only 22 arrived on the Afghan Resettlement Scheme shows how the government needs to urgently rethink its approach and expand access to refugee visas. We need an asylum system that isn’t just about control but is also about compassion and competence.

“The Government’s proposed inhumane legislation would strip people coming to our country of the right to apply for asylum even though the latest data shows three quarters have successful claims enabling them to go on to contribute to our communities in the way so many have over generations. It would treat refugees in need of protection like criminals. It fails to recognise that people have no other option – there is currently no refugee visa for people escaping from brutal beatings in Iran, or bombs and bullets in Syria.

“What we need is a workable and humane plan that provides refugee visas, an orderly asylum system with timely decision making and a workable agreement with our European partners to share responsibility for all those who need safety in the region.”


Commenting on the new plan to speed up processing of claimants from 5 countries, he added:

“Moves to reduce the backlog are welcome but the answer is not yet more bureaucratic hurdles and threats of applications being withdrawn. Quickly granting refugee status to people from countries with high grant rates should be a welcome first step but the process must be well thought-out.

“After living in worry and uncertainty for months and even years without hearing anything about their claims, it cannot then be fair or reasonable to expect people to complete a lengthy form only in English in a matter of weeks especially for those who don’t have access to legal advice and don’t speak English.

“As it stands, the Prime Minister will fail to meet his commitment to clear the backlog by the end of this year and if he is serious about it there must be a more ambitious, workable, person-centred approach that sees the face behind the case.

“A priority should be accelerating the asylum claims of thousands of unaccompanied children and those of the 10,000 people who have been waiting for more than three years, as well as making quick positive decisions for those from countries like Sudan and Iran that also have very high grant rates. Without these steps, the record backlog is only going to continue to grow, at great human and financial cost.”


Case study:

Farzad escaped persecution in Iran and is now living in the UK. He experienced a long, demoralising wait living in a hotel, uncertain about the outcome of his asylum application. He has now been granted refugee status and is building a new life in the UK. He shares his experience of crossing the Channel:

“Due to religious problems I was forced to flee the country in 2019. I came to the UK indirectly… It was a huge risk, basically. It was in the middle of winter, I didn’t have any other chance to take. I didn’t expect it and I wasn’t prepared for that. Our destiny was in the hands of smugglers… It was horrifying, it was like, really bad. My story was bad, but I heard loads of even worse stories, people in a really dangerous situation, women and kids in boats, all sorts of weird things happening there.

“It’s a tricky situation, isn’t it? To prevent them from doing that, [I suggest] maybe giving people a route to come, so they can actually apply legally. If they see a chance that they can come, a lot of people, including myself, wouldn’t take this risk. People don’t want to risk their lives. But if people have no chance, they need to flee, they will take bigger risks to come. I think to apply legal routes for people to come is one solution.”

"Bureaucratic hurdles"

What will the Government’s new plan for clearing the backlog mean for people seeking asylum?

Read our explainer