More asylum seekers than ever are being forced to wait more than half a year for their claims to be processed, figures show.
Campaigners have warned that thousands of vulnerable people are being left “in limbo” after government data revealed 16,970 asylum seekers had been waiting more than six months to receive a decision in June, compared with 10,707 the year before – a 58 per cent increase.
The total backlog in cases pending an initial decision increased from 30,027 at the end of March 2019 to 31,887 at the end of June. Of these, 16,970 (50 per cent) had been waiting for more than six months.
One refugee, who did not want to be named, said he was forced to wait four and a half years before he received a decision on his asylum claim after fleeing political persecution in Turkey.
The Turkish national, who applied for asylum in February 2014 but wasn’t granted refugee status until mid-2018, said that despite having previously managed a shipping company in his home country, the gap in his work history meant he was struggling to get a skilled job in Britain.
Describing his wait, he told The Independent: “I felt like I was still in prison in the UK. You have no chance to move on, you’re just waiting, living penny by penny. You feel like a big burden to everyone. You don’t have reason to live.
“You can’t work. If you do try work somewhere you are badly treated. You feel everything is taken from you and you get nothing. It feels like no one is caring for you. It feels like there’s no end to the suffering.”
The new figures show that the overall number of unresolved cases, including those waiting for an appeal outcome and those which are on hold, has been continuously increasing since 2014 when the total stood at 55,000. At the end of June 2019, these cases amounted to 100,602.
The Home Office has announced it was abandoning its target of deciding straightforward asylum claims within six months in order to “concentrate on cases with acute vulnerability and those in receipt of the greatest level of support”.
Labour’s shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, said the “extreme and lengthening” times for cases to be processed stemmed from the government’s hostile environment policy, adding: “Any civilised country has a duty to refugees, both morally and legally. But the Tories have shown an extreme unwillingness to meet those obligations and frequently treat people in a shameful way.”
Sonya Sceats, chief executive of Freedom from Torture, said the figures showed that Home Office decision-making was “unacceptable” and in serious need of reform.
“These are life and death decisions for vulnerable people who are in limbo and facing an uncertain future. The recent reneging of the commitment to deal with asylum claims within six months earlier this year has demonstrated that the Home Office is not listening,” she said.
“As well as costing the taxpayer millions, the Home Office is forcing torture survivors and other fragile people to endure the stress and uncertainty of a turbulent appeals process. The damage to peoples’ mental health and setbacks for their social integration cannot be underestimated.”
Dr Lisa Doyle, director of advocacy and engagement at the Refugee Council, said the charity was “increasingly concerned” about the rise in delays during the asylum process and urged the Home Office to address these delays “as a matter of urgency”.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Over 12 months we gave protection to over 18,500 people, the highest number since 2003. We aim to resolve all asylum claims as quickly as possible, however, some cases are complex and it’s our duty to investigate them thoroughly. We continue to review and improve processes to increase efficiency and have recently increased the number of staff to ensure that asylum claims are properly considered in a timely and sensitive way.”
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