A new report published by the Refugee Council today reveals a staggering rise in the numbers of people seeking asylum condemned to wait for over a year for even an initial decision on whether they will be able to remain in the UK.
Freedom of Information (FOI) requests of Home Office data obtained by the charity show that the number of people waiting for more than a year for an initial decision increased almost tenfold from 3,588 people in 2010 to 33,016 in 2020.
Other shocking findings include the number of children waiting longer than a year for an initial decision having increased more than twelve fold from 563 children in 2010 to 6,887 in 2020.
More than 250 people had been waiting for 5 years or more for an initial decision on their case, of whom 55 were children.
The analysis finds that the average waiting time for an initial decision on an asylum case is likely to be between one and three years. It says that the backlog in initial decisions is primarily driven by the number of initial decisions failing to keep pace with the number of asylum applications being made.
The report exposes the detrimental impact asylum delays have on the mental health and wellbeing of people who seek safety in this country having fled war, terror, ongoing conflict and persecution. It says that it is common for Refugee Council staff to see people becoming increasingly unstable as the years of delays to their case and the corresponding uncertainty damages their mental and physical health. In some cases it has led to self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
People caught up in the asylum backlog for years on end also lose any work based skills they arrived with, damaging the integration and employment prospects for the majority of cases that go on to be granted status.
The Refugee Council warns that the government’s ‘New Plan for Immigration’ contains no plans to address the backing and will only make this issue far worse, with further delays to the asylum process a highly likely outcome of new inadmissibility rules and other proposed changes to the asylum system.
The charity is calling on the government to urgently address the issue of asylum delays, with recommendations for the Home Office including introducing an effective triaging and prioritisation system, undertaking a review to ascertain the reasons why cases have been waiting for more than a year for an initial decision and establishing a dedicated backlog clearance team.
Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said: “Leaving vulnerable men, women and children waiting for years on end for news of their fate in what feels like a never ending state of limbo is cruel and unjust. It is an incredibly inefficient, ineffective and unfair way to operate a refugee protection system.
We need a system that works by making timely decisions and ensures everybody in need of safety gets a fair hearing. Competence and compassion are what matters. Instead the government’s asylum reforms are likely to lead to even longer waits with even more people condemned to years of worry and uncertainty.”
Ahmad* came to the UK with his wife and two children in 2018 having escaped kidnapping and persecution in his home country. His initial relief at having found safety in a new country, and enthusiasm to rebuild his life here, gradually subsided as the wait for even an initial decision on his claim got longer. Three and a half years later Ahmad is still waiting for his substantive interview and any real clarity on whether the UK can be his and his growing family’s home for the long term.
“Sometimes the Home Office write to us to say that we’ll have our interview in 6 months, but they have so many times, I can no longer rely on their word. In the first year, first two years, I was so tense, always waiting for letters. Your day starts waiting for a letter and ends like this, every day is like this.
I cannot work here. I have two degrees, one in Economics and one in Law, but it means nothing here. I love studying and learning. I was planning on going to university here, do a short-term course here, but time is running out. I am 35 already; maybe I won’t get my status until I am 40 and there’ll be no point to get an education, and I will be thinking about my children’s education.”
*Name has been changed to protect anonymity.