The Home Office says it has reduced the number of asylum applications, but critics accuse the government of manipulating the numbers.
Tens of thousands of migrants are staying in hotels requisitioned by the government while awaiting initial decisions on refugee status.
Just over a year ago, Chancellor Rishi Sunak promised to process 92,000 ‘legacy’ applications by the end of 2023, and the Home Office has now announced that it has done so. But Labor claims the government is making false claims about meeting the target.
According to a Home Office press release, “increased efficiency” has meant more than 112,000 asylum cases were processed by officials last year, exceeding the PM’s commitment.
It says in one four-week period from 20 November to 17 December 2023, there were 20,481 initial asylum decisions made – more than the number of asylum decisions made in the whole of 2021.
The prime minister said the department’s efforts are “saving the taxpayer millions of pounds in expensive hotel costs, reducing strain on public services and ensuring the most vulnerable receive the right support”.
But critics – including some Tory MPs – dispute these claims and suggest that Downing Street is massaging the statistics.
Legacy cases refer only to people in the asylum system on 28 June 2022, the day when new asylum rules came into force.
All of those cases have been reviewed but not all have been resolved – 4,500 have been reclassified as “complex”.
The Home Office says such cases typically involve asylum seekers presenting as children – age verification, serious medical issues or checks on suspected convictions can be among the issues.
Around 100,000 people whose applications were made after June 2022 are still in the system and many of them remain in hotels.
Stephen Kinnock, shadow immigration minister, said the government’s claims were “false” and the asylum backlog had “rocketed” under the Tories. “No slicing or renaming the figures can disguise that fact,” he said.
“Over 4,000 claims are unresolved and a disturbing 17,000 asylum seekers have simply been ‘withdrawn’ by the Tories from this legacy backlog, with ministers seeming to have no idea where they are and whether they are reapplying or disappearing into the underground economy.”
In January last year, Rishi Sunak outlined five key priorities for the year – stopping boats bringing people across the English Channel was one of them.
Figures released on Monday said the number of migrants crossing the Channel had fallen year-on-year for the first time since current records began – the provisional annual total for the year, 29,437, is 36% lower than the record 45,774 crossings for the whole of 2022.
The government also said that in 2023 it had:
- returned more than 24,000 people who had no right to be in the UK, including more than 5,500 Albanians
- increased enforcement visits – 10,509 in the first nine months compared to 6,865 in the same period in 2022
- arrested 246 people smugglers.
Commenting on the overall number of cases processed, Home Secretary James Cleverly said: “This is a significant achievement but the job is far from over.