Shadow immigration minister Bambos Charalambous has expressed shock at figures revealed by The Independent over the weekend showing that over 1,200 asylum seekers currently in the system have waited more than five years – and 399 more than a decade.
In a letter to immigration minister Kevin Foster on Wednesday, the Labour MP accused the department of presiding over “continuous” delays that put vulnerable people’s lives on hold and generate higher costs to the taxpayer.
“This is awful government incompetence, and further illustrates the continuous delays to the asylum system that have happened on the watch of this Conservative government,” the letter states.
“Not only are the lives of those seeking asylum put on hold but the delays are also costing more in public funds.”
The figures, which were obtained by The Independent under freedom of information (FOI) laws and include cases where appeals had taken place, show that as of December 2020, 36,725 asylum seekers had been waiting more than a year for a decision.
Separate data, obtained by the Refugee Council through an FOI request, reveal that 250 people had been waiting for five years or more for an initial decision on their case, with dozens of children among them.
The Independent spoke to one young woman who was left waiting for an initial decision for nine years, preventing her from working and pursuing higher education – which she said exacerbated her existing trauma.
When decisions do arrive, the majority are told they can stay in the UK. In the year ending June 2020, more than half of applications at initial decision resulted in grants of asylum, humanitarian protection or alternative forms of leave, rising to more than two-thirds after appeals.
In his letter to the immigration minister, Mr Charalambous demanded to know what steps the department is taking to address the thousands of applications that have been in the system for over five years.
“It is Conservative incompetence that has led to 1,200 applications taking over five years for a decision to be taken,” he added.
Responding to the FOI data, a Home Office spokesperson told The Independent it was committed to ensuring asylum claims were considered “without unnecessary delay”, but that some cases could be “more complex and take longer to process”.
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