The number for asylum seekers waiting longer than half a year for their asylum claim to be decided has hit a record high after surging by 76 per cent in a year, new figures show.
Ministers are facing fresh calls to grant people seeking asylum the right to work after government data revealed 29,218 people had been waiting for an initial decision on their claim for more than six months as of December 2019 – compared to 16,555 the previous year.
The number of people granted asylum last year reached its highest level in 16 years, with more than half (52 per cent) of claimants granted protection at the initial decision stage, compared with only a third (33 per cent) the previous year.
But charities expressed “deep concern” at delays in the decision-making process, with more than 51,213 asylum seekers now waiting for an initial decision – a 43 per cent rise on 2018.
More than half (57 per cent) now wait longer than six months, with some left in limbo for years.
While waiting for their claims to be processed asylum seekers are not allowed to work, leaving them to struggle to support their families on just £5.39 a day – which charities say forces many into destitution.
The government data shows a 21 per cent increase in asylum applications to the Home Office – although this was still lower than the recent peak in the year ending June 2016, when there were 36,546.
One refugee, a Congolese national who did not want to be named, was forced to wait five years to be granted protection.
The 28-year-old man, who came to the UK after fleeing his country for political reasons, said he felt they were wasted years of his life.
“I wanted to work, but I couldn’t because I was not allowed. They paid me £38 a week – you can’t live on that money. You need to buy food – breakfast lunch and dinner. Sometimes you have appointments so you need to pay for transport,” he said.
“Sometimes I ran out and had to rely on friends. It was so, so stressful. And you don’t know what ‘s going to happen. You’re going to sign on every month with immigration, and you just don’t know what’s coming next.
“You’re just waiting and waiting and waiting. You think too much; you don’t sleep. It feels like wasted years.”
The Congolese national waited two and a half years for an initial decision on his case, which was a refusal. He then appealed – a process which took around two years – and was granted asylum last year.
“I gave them all the evidence. So much evidence. The reason they gave was so rubbish. It was very stressful going through the appeal process. I’m hopeful now that I can finally find a job and move on,” he said.
Under a bill brought forward in parliament earlier this month, asylum seekers who have waited more than six months for a decision on their claim would be given the right to work.
The SNP’s Carol Monaghan accused the government of “wasting the talents of thousands of people” as she launched a commons bid to halve the wait for those seeking asylum to be allowed to work.
Responding to the new figures, Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, said: “Snowballing wait times combined with a ban on working has created a perfect storm for poverty and homelessness for people seeking asylum.
“The government has a moral and legal obligation to prevent people seeking asylum from falling into destitution. They simply must lift the ban on people working.”
Campaigners welcomed the fact more than half (52 per cent) of people who sought safety in Britain last year were granted protection at the initial decision stage, compared with only a third (33 per cent) the previous year.
Andy Hewett, head of advocacy at the Refugee Council, celebrated that more correct decisions were being made in the first instance, but said he was “deeply worried” more and more people seeking protection in Britain were being forced to wait for months and in some cases years for decisions.
“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,” he added.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring asylum claims are considered without unnecessary delay and that those who need protection are granted as soon as possible, can start to integrate and rebuild their lives, including those granted at appeal.
“Asylum seeker right to work is a complex issue and is under review. It is crucial we take the time to get this right. We are listening carefully to the arguments and considering the evidence put forward on the issue.”
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