Revealed: Asylum seekers ‘living in hell’ as number waiting more than three years for decisions quadruples

Tens of thousands of people waiting over a year as the full scale of the asylum backlog revealed

Holly Bancroft
Monday 14 November 2022 00:02 GMT
Children held at Kent detention camp chant 'freedom'

The number of migrants waiting more than three years to find out if they have been granted asylum in the UK has more than quadrupled in 18 months as the immigration backlog crisis deepens and thousands of people are left in limbo.

New figures show that there has been a huge surge in asylum seekers waiting many years for an initial decision on their claim.

It comes as home secretary Suella Braverman is expected to announce a “ten-point migration plan” with Gérald Darmanin, her French counterpart.

On Sunday it was confirmed more than 40,000 migrants have made the Channel crossing this year, already thousands more than for the whole of 2021.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick has insisted a move towards more basic accommodation is necessary to remove a “pull factor” for those making their way to the UK in small boats.

In an article for The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Jenrick said a “chronic shortage of acceptable accommodation” for record numbers of migrants has forced the government to procure expensive and often unsuitable hotels, leaving the taxpayer with an “unacceptable” cost.

The paper reports ministers are considering larger sites to house migrants, including student accommodation, holiday parks and cruise ships

In December 2020 there were 2,284 adults and children who had been awaiting a decision for more than three years. By June 2022 there were 10,276 – a 350 per cent increase, figures obtained by the charity Refugee Council show.

It was revealed at the Home Affairs Committee last month that only 4 per cent of claims by 2021 boat arrivals had been processed.

That means tens of thousands of people are in limbo in hotel accommodation, waiting for a decision on their claims. As well, 33,746 adults have been waiting for more than a year, according to the latest figures.

Another 570 adults had been waiting more than five years for a decision, FOI data from the Home Office showed, while 155 people who were under the age of 18 when they initially made their asylum application are also in this position.

Abu*, who is from Sudan and has been housed in a hotel in Yorkshire for nearly a year, said he was “living in a hell” waiting for news on his asylum application.

Abu, who fled Sudan after the 2021 coup, said he felt depressed and angry. “You feel like you are useless. I started even questioning if I am a useful person? If I get refugee status, will they accept us, or will it continue like this?”

One asylum seeker said hotel accommodation was like ‘living in a hell’
One asylum seeker said hotel accommodation was like ‘living in a hell’ (AFP via Getty)

He said he felt like the government was waiting for him to make a mistake, “to do something wrong, because they will try to make you get out of this country.

“The most important thing when you are refugee is reintegration, integrating in the community, feeling you are living a normal life, not like you’re in detention. Here I’m restricted,” he said. Abu has lived in the UK before when his wife was studying at university and he used to work here in the hospitality sector.

Now, on his return, he has found himself unable to work.

“I don’t have credit, I cannot charge my phone. I don’t have enough money. When I go outside, if I went to a new place, I would not be able to get back,” he said.

As of June this year, there were 122,206 people waiting for an initial decision on their asylum claim. This was a fourfold increase in five years, up from 29,522 in December 2017.

The government spends almost £7m a day housing asylum seekers in hotels.

Alice Giuliato, who supports asylum seekers in east London hotel accommodation with the charity Ramfel, said that the long periods of time that adults and families were spending in hotels was impacting on their physical and mental health.

“The families report the same issues. Number one is the food, which they say is inedible. As a consequence children don’t want to eat and they are malnourished. GPs have told us that the children are losing weight because they don’t want to eat that food.

“Hygiene is also a big issue. One person sent us videos of mice in their bedrooms. Some families are also separated, with half the family in one hotel and the other half in another,” she said.

“People develop mental health issues as a result of being stuck in the hotel for a really long time. Also, asylum seekers only receive £8 a week after they have a section 95 granted, so they can’t afford to move freely.”

Durga Sivasathiaseelan, a GP and outreach coordinator for charity Doctors of the World, said asylum seekers were given very limited information to help them when they arrived in hotels.

“Some people are in mental health crises at the point I’ve seen them,” she said. “Certainly the nature of the conditions in most sites only exacerbates their mental health.”

“The length of stay is absolutely increasing,” she added. “We now support people who have been in this sort of accommodation for a year-plus now, getting on to two years. The sites are not made for that, they are meant for a maximum of 12 weeks.”

Suella Braverman under pressure over asylum crises and security concerns

Some hotel rooms don’t have windows and there is no kitchen for people to make their own food, she said.

Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said that “immediate action should be taken to address the huge backlog of men, women and children stuck in limbo”.

“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,” he said.

Monday’s announcement by Ms Braverman is expected to include working closer with French officials and an increase in patrols.

A Home Office spokesperson said the department was doing “everything we can to address this issue.

“We have increased the number of caseworkers by 80 per cent to more than 1,000 and a successful pilot scheme has seen the average number of asylum claims processed by caseworkers double, which is now being rolled out across the country.”

*Name has been changed

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