Today sees the release of the latest statistics on asylum and protection for 2019. This includes how many people claimed asylum in the UK, the different outcomes of asylum decisions, interesting information about countries of origin and other features of the asylum system.
The statistics show a very promising increase in the numbers of people who have been granted asylum – in fact more than half (52%) of initial decisions made in 2019 were grants of asylum or humanitarian protection. This means that the Government has accepted that the risk of harm to those people, if they were returned to the country from which they fled, is so clear that they need to stay here to be safe.
The statistics also show a clear increase in the number of people who applied for asylum compared with in 2018 – 35,566, an increase of 21%. This comes as no surprise. As millions of adults and children continue to be forced out of their homes by war, conflict and persecution, it is inevitable that people will continue to seek safety in safe countries such as ours.
Given the wide spread and number of conflicts and human rights abuses occurring the world over, we see many different nationalities seeking asylum here. The top countries of origin in the last year for people seeking asylum in the UK were Iran, Albania, Iraq, Pakistan and Eritrea.
What is deeply concerning to us is just how many people are being forced to wait for even an initial decision on their asylum claim, and how lengthy their wait can be. These statistics show that total backlog in cases pending an initial decision increased from 35,043 at the end of September 2019 to 40,018 at the end of December 2019. This is a significant increase and demonstrative of a consistent increase building up over the past year and longer. Even more worrying is the fact that of those cases still pending an initial decision, 52% have had to wait longer than six months for a decision on their asylum application.
In better news, it’s fantastic to see 7,083 family reunion visas granted in 2019, up 24% compared with the previous year. Though this is clearly a step in the right direction, refugee family reunion remains an overly restrictive route and we continue to call on the Government to amend these rules, so enabling more refugees to be reunited with their family members in safety. It was also great to see that the number of people resettled under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) since it began now stands at 19,353, close to the Government target of 20,000.
Responding to today’s statistics, Andy Hewett, Head of Advocacy at the Refugee Council, said:
“We are pleased that over half of people who sought safety in Britain in 2019 were granted protection by the Government at the initial decision stage. This demonstrates that more correct decisions are being made in the first instance.
“That being said, we remain deeply worried that more and more people seeking protection in this country are being forced to wait for months, in some cases years for news of their fate. It is unbearable to think about what life is like for these people, living in constant limbo and fear, ending up in poverty and being banned from finding work. It is unacceptable that in modern Britain so many human beings are being forced to survive with such a basic lack of dignity.
“In addition, at a time when the Government is making wholesale changes to our immigration system, we want to see a strong commitment to increasing safe and regular routes through which people can find safety in the UK. Widening the definition of family members eligible to reunite under refugee family reunion rules would be a hugely important part of this.”