Home Office ‘chaos’ as at least 55,500 asylum seekers stuck in new Rwanda backlog

Asylum claims put in ‘deep freeze’ by the Home Office as ministers pin hopes on Rwanda flights plan

Holly Bancroft
Social Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 28 February 2024 10:03 GMT
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More than 55,500 asylum seekers are stuck in a new backlog as the government struggles to force through its flagship Rwanda policy – costing the taxpayer millions of pounds, a report has found.

Tens of thousands of asylum seekers who arrived in the UK irregularly since March last year have had their cases paused by the Home Office as the government waits to see if its policy of sending migrants to the African country will succeed.

The “perma-backlog” has been caused by the government’s lllegal Migration Act, which bans ministers from granting asylum to anyone who entered the UK illegally on or after 7 March 2023.

The act also requires the government to remove illegal migrants who entered the country after 20 July 2023, when the act received royal assent.

But with Rishi Sunak’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda suffering a significant setback at the Supreme Court, the cases are in paralysis, analysis has found.

Research by think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has found that these asylum seekers are now stuck in temporary accommodation, unable to work, and unable to have their claims processed.

Rishi Sunak has pinned his hopes on the government’s Rwanda policy to deport migrants from the UK
Rishi Sunak has pinned his hopes on the government’s Rwanda policy to deport migrants from the UK (POOL/AFP via Getty)

Charities said that asylum claims were being put in a “deep freeze” by the Home Office, “leaving refugees stuck in a never-ending limbo”.

Labour’s shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock accused the government of replacing “one asylum backlog with another, at an enormous cost to the British taxpayer”. He said the Tories had created “complete and utter chaos” in the asylum system.

It currently costs around £8m a day to house asylum seekers in hotels, according to the Home Office’s annual report.

Even if planes to Rwanda do start to fly, only a few hundred people are expected to be accommodated in the east-African country – nowhere near the tens of thousands of cases that are currently not being processed.

The IPPR has estimated that around 22,400 asylum claims were made between 7 March and 20 July. It has previously been reported that the Home Office had paused their cases, with one official telling The i: “They haven’t decided what to do with them yet, that’s why we are not processing their claims.”

As of 28 December 2023, there had been around 33,100 asylum claims made since 20 July 2023, the bulk of which were likely to be from people who had arrived irregularly, the report said.

The Home Office’s director general for migration and borders, Dan Hobbs, told MPs in late January that these 33,000 migrants were “inadmissible to the [asylum] system under the terms of the Illegal Migration Act”.

He explained: “At the moment, we do not have a safe country of return for the vast majority of those individuals, so they are here on bail, pending the conclusion of the Safety of Rwanda Bill and the movement forward of our relocation agreement with Rwanda.”

Labour’s shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock says the government has ‘replaced one asylum backlog with another’
Labour’s shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock says the government has ‘replaced one asylum backlog with another’ (PA)

Marley Morris, associate director for migration at IPPR, said: “Chaos in the home office has led to tens of thousands of asylum seekers stuck in a perma-backlog, unable to get on with their lives and costing the taxpayer millions. This was an entirely predictable outcome of the Illegal Migration Act. The only way to escape this situation is for the Home Office to start processing claims.”

Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said that the government was “effectively putting significant numbers of asylum claims in a deep freeze”. He added that this was “creating chaos, driving up costs and leaving refugees stuck in a never-ending limbo, at risk of destitution, exploitation and abuse”.

Charlotte Khan, of charity Care4Calais, said it was “shameful” that “tens of thousands of people, who have already survived horrors such as war, torture and persecution, are being held in limbo without a future”.

Asli Tatliadim, of Refugee Action, called on the government to “commit to fairly processing all claims and repeal their extremely damaging anti-refugee laws”.

Mr Kinnock added: “The Tories have already pledged to give £400m to the Rwandan government without a single person being flown there, and wider removals have collapsed by 34 per cent since 2010. It’s time the government stopped wasting taxpayers’ money.

“They should instead deliver our plan to end the crossings with a new cross-border police force, faster processing, and a new returns unit to speed up the safe-country removals of those who fail in their asylum claims.”

A Home Office spokesperson repeated the contested claim that the department had cleared the legacy asylum backlog, saying: “We met the prime minister’s pledge to clear the legacy backlog of asylum cases made before 28 June 2022 and all of those cases have been reviewed. Now we are working through the next cohort of applications.”

The spokesperson added: “We are beginning to implement measures in the Illegal Migration Act following the Supreme Court’s judgment on Rwanda and alongside the Safety of Rwanda Bill going through parliament, delivering against this government’s priority of tackling illegal migration.”

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