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As Britain reels from channel tragedy, slow processing and increasing asylum claims push UK asylum backlog towards 88,000

25 Nov 2021

New data released by the Home Office show that almost 88,000 people are still waiting to hear if their claim for refugee status has been successful as fewer than 20% of asylum applications are processed within the government’s abandoned 6-month target, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said today.

The number of people applying for asylum in the third quarter of 2021 also reached 17,400, the highest quarterly count since early 2003. However, the number of applicants over the full year to September, at almost 44,200, 2021 was only up 11% on the previous year, because of low numbers in early 2021. The annual figure was less than half of the previous peak 103,000 in the calendar year 2002.

Based on previous data releases, fewer than 20% of claims are processed within the government’s abandoned six-month target, with increasing numbers of asylum seekers waiting more than a year. The increase in the number of people applying for asylum was driven by those from Eritrea, Iran and Syria – all states where applicants have a high level of acceptance rates for refugee status in the UK. In the case of Syria and Eritrea this is currently above 90%.

Dr Peter William Walsh, researcher at the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “The situation in the channel yesterday is an unspeakable tragedy. The increase in claims for asylum is driven by arrivals from Eritrea, Iran and Syria, all of which have very high acceptance rates for asylum in the UK as a result of the danger people face in those countries. The backlog in the number of asylum seekers is increasing both as a result of this increase and the slow processing of asylum claims.”

Asylum applications in the UK were substantially lower than in France, which received 31,000 applicants in the third quarter of 2021.

Experimental data, released today by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic reduced net migration to the UK to just 34,000, hitting the elusive (and now abandoned) ‘net migration target’ promised by David Cameron in 2010 for the first time.

The new ONS data – which the Migration Observatory suggests should be treated with some caution as they may be revised substantially – highlights that the closure of international borders to reduce the spread of COVID-19 had a dramatic impact on global migration.

Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “The ONS estimates that there was a net outflow of 94,000 EU citizens from the UK, while non-EU net migration remained positive. For most of the 2010s it was pretty difficult to fathom what would be required to hit the net migration target, which was so far below migration levels at the time. These 2020 estimates illustrate that the severe disruption of a global pandemic appears to have dramatically reduced people’s motivations or ability to move to the UK.”


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