UK’s asylum system ‘collapses’ as 140,000 people face soaring waiting times

The number of people waiting on asylum claims has reached more than 140,000, new figures show, as Labour said the decision-making system had “collapsed”.

Applications have reached their highest point on record – rising by over 20,000 in the last three months alone, and are three times higher than the same point in 2019.

Amid mounting pressure on hotels and processing centres, critics have said the Home Office needs an “urgent overhaul” after the number of claims being processed plummeted despite rocketing English Channel crossings.

Figures show the proportion of asylum applications granted is the highest for 32 years, at 77 per cent, but the vast majority of small boat migrants have not had theirs considered.

Some Channel migrants have been waiting since 2018 for a decision, but ministers have intensified attempts to declare them “inadmissible” for consideration because they passed through France.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, accused the government of “mismanagement of the immigration and asylum systems”.

“Asylum decision-making has collapsed – with only 2 per cent of people who arrived in small boats over the last year having had their cases decided,” she added.

“They have no proper grip or control, they just ramp up the rhetoric instead of putting sensible policies in place.”

The Law Society of England and Wales said the Home Office needed an “urgent overhaul”, amid a drive to recruit more decision-makers and give them “retention allowances” of £1,500 to £2,500 to stay in their posts.

Deputy vice president Richard Atkinson said: “Far too many people are waiting far too long for a decision on their request for sanctuary in the UK.

“There is also still a problem with the quality of Home Office decision-making – 52 per cent of decisions were overturned when appealed.

Of the small proportion of asylum claims considered, 77 per cent were granted in the year to September – the highest proportion since 1990.

Home Office officials say the rate will fall as it tries to process more cases, because it has been prioritising extremely vulnerable people, children and “high harm cases” that are more likely to succeed.

The Home Office has a legal duty not to leave asylum seekers destitute while they await a decision, meaning the backlog is driving chaotic attempts to find hotel places because of a lack of proper accommodation.

Around 40,000 asylum seekers are currently being housed in hotels, as well as more than 9,000 Afghans who were evacuated or resettled following the Taliban takeover in August of last year.

A young woman who fled to Kabul airport with just her laptop and phone, and was put on a flight hours before an Isis suicide bombing that killed almost 200 people, lived in a hotel room with her sister for 14 months.

“Initially they said it would be for six months and ‘then we will give you a house anywhere you want to live’, then they said ‘we will have to move you where we find houses’,” she told The Independent. “Now they are saying ‘you have to find a home for yourself’.”

The university student, in her twenties, eventually contacted a local council directly and secured a flat for her family this month after explaining their situation.

She said it was “difficult” and depressing living in the hotel, where she struggled to sleep because of noise and said there was a “lot of trauma” among refugees trying to access mental health services.

A Taliban fighter stands guard at the site of the 26 August twin suicide bombs outside Kabul airport

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