New figures reveal scale of asylum backlog crisis - Refugee Council
November 14, 2022

New figures reveal scale of asylum backlog crisis

  • Figures show fresh evidence of the staggering number of people in the asylum system living in limbo for years on end due to asylum delays.
  • FOI data obtained by the Refugee Council shows the number of people waiting for an initial decision on their asylum claim rocketed to 122,206 – a fourfold increase in five years.
  • A third of them, 40,913, have been waiting between one and three years.

New figures revealed by the charity Refugee Council today underline the scale of the asylum backlog crisis, with tens of thousands of people whose lives are on hold stuck in the system for over a year.

The figures show that the asylum backlog has quadrupled in the last five years – in December 2017 it stood at 29,522. In June this year it was 122,206.

The comparison over 10 years is even more stark – in December 2012 the number of people waiting for an initial decision on their asylum claim was just 12,808.

Freedom of Information (FOI) requests of Home Office data obtained by the charity show that of the overall number of people still waiting for an initial decision in June this year, 40,913 men, women and children have been waiting for between one and three years. This is a third of all those waiting for a decision.

Shockingly, 725 people – including 155 children – have been living in limbo waiting for a decision for more than five years.

The figures show that the number of people waiting in the asylum system has been growing exponentially in the last five years – challenging claims it is down to higher numbers crossing the channel in small boats this year.

The FOI data shows:

  • As of June 2022, 122,206 people were waiting for an initial decision – this includes main applicants, adult dependents and children. This compares to 64,891 in Dec 2020, meaning the numbers almost doubled in just 18 months
  • 32,981 people were waiting for under six months, compared to 18,098 just 18 months before in Dec 2020
  • 38,036 people had been waiting between six months and a year
  • 40, 913 people had been waiting for between one and three years, a third of all those waiting for a decision. This compares to 30,824 people just 18 months before in Dec 2020.
  • 9,551 people had been waiting for between three and five years, almost one in ten of all those waiting for a decision, and 725 had been waiting for more than 5 years for an initial decision.

The charity has grave concerns about the harmful impact of the backlog on the mental health and wellbeing of people seeking asylum, who are effectively living in limbo for months and even years, suffering from incredibly high levels of anxiety and uncertainty.

Support for those in the asylum system who are waiting for a decision is very poor, and most people have to live in hotels or share rooms with people they don’t know for extended periods of time, instead of being able to put down roots and thrive in the community. There are serious concerns about the safeguarding arrangements for children in hotels.

The Refugee Council is urging ministers to take the following steps to address the situation:

  1. There must be adequate resourcing of decision making with a dedicated backlog clearance case resolution taskforce and a target number of decision makers that is maintained going forward and reviewed on a regular basis.
  2. Prioritisation of most vulnerable people in the system alongside those who have been waiting more than two years with clarity when decisions can be made on paper without the need for an interview.
  3. A commitment to the quality and timeliness of decision making including a target date for when the backlog will be cleared and a commitment to a quality service standard for the asylum process and all asylum cases. The goal should be for the number of decisions to at least match the number of applications.
  4. See the face behind the case in the asylum process by improving communication with people waiting on a decision on their claim and ensure they have early access to quality legal advice and early access to trauma-informed support.
  5. Remove the red tape that seeks to further complicate the asylum process and will inevitably cause further delays – by simplifying the immigration rules, including withdrawing provisions on the inadmissibility of asylum claims and implementing proposals from UNHCR to reform registrations, screening and decision-making process.
  6. Implement the recommendations made by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration set out in his ‘Inspection of asylum casework’ report of November 2021.
Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, 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.

“There are clear steps this government could take immediately to address this situation – we are keen to work constructively to help it do so. The untold human misery this situation causes is simply unsustainable, while the cost on the public purse stretches beyond £2bn a year.

“Without putting in place a dedicated case resolution taskforce to quickly clear the backlog there is likely to be another appalling episode, as recently seen at the Manston centre, in the coming year.

“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.”

Case study

The quotes below are from Abu*, who is from Sudan and is currently housed in a hotel in Yorkshire, waiting for news on his application for asylum.

“Sometimes you get angry, you feel against a wall, you feel like you are useless, you cannot do anything… I start to feel like I’m getting depression.”

“I started even questioning, if I am useful person? If I get refugee status, will they accept us, or will it continue like this? This will be like a hell, living in a hell…”

“The government, you feel they are trying every day just to find some mistake, everyone is telling you the same, these people, they are just waiting for you to do a mistake, to do something wrong, because they will try to make you get out of this country. It makes you feel like… it’s awful actually.”

“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.”

“It makes you feel like – is that what I have done? It’s not something I have done by willing – should I escape or should I face death back home in Sudan? It’s kind of making you question yourself.”

 “Many of the people here, who have problems, who went through a miserable journey, moving from their country since 2019, since 2018, because at least this country is good, they want to get a decent life, they are escaping from hell there. When they come here they get shocked.”



Annex: the Home Office’s FOI response and data table

To find out more about what it’s like for people facing long waits on their asylum claims, read Farzad’s story about asylum delays.