By Nadeem Badshah
ACTIVISTS and MPs have called for a radical shake-up after it emerged the number of asylum seekers waiting longer than six months for a decision on their application has risen threefold.
Figures show that there is a record backlog of 60,548 people waiting for an initial decision on their asylum claim, with 76 per cent of people waiting more than six months. Many have no right to work, MPs said.
Lawyers have revealed that some applicants from south Asia fleeing persecution have waited for years for a decision on whether they can remain in the country.
Harjap Singh Bhangal, from GLS Solicitors, told Eastern Eye: “It is no secret that the Home Office is not fit for purpose. Pretty much every year a Commons select committee comes to this conclusion.
“Many asylum applications have been waiting for years for just a simple decision, or over a year for even an interview.
“The Home Office neither has the infrastructure nor competent staff to deal with the applications already pending, let alone new applications.
“Many decisions when they are finally made are incorrect and overturned by independent judges on appeal.
“In essence, what is needed is a thorough overhaul of the current system. What we get by successive governments is essentially papering over the cracks solutions which just add to the backlog and delays.”
Asylum seekers waiting for the Home Office to decide on their applications are living on around £5.66 a day, according to charities. Of the 60,548 people waiting for an initial asylum decision by September last year, 46,108 had been in limbo for more than six months. This is despite an eight per cent annual decrease in the number of people applying.
Labour MP Khalid Mahmood MP told Eastern Eye: “It’s totally incompetent. They have got a crisis in their hands not just with Covid, but with management.
“They haven’t got enough staff in the Home Office, they are trying to do the job with half the people they had.
“They tried to show they are tough on immigration but people are languishing on the streets with no recourse.
“They have not got the people to process claims. They need more than technology and AI (artificial intelligence).
“People seeking asylum are among the most vulnerable in society. They have no income and may get exploited in the UK. It’s absolutely disgraceful.”
Home Office data also showed the number of people waiting for their initial asylum claim to be processed had surged in every quarter except one since March 2017, rising from 27,048 to 60,548 in three and-a-half years.
Kishan Devani BEM, vice-president of the Liberal Democrats Campaign for Racial Equality, said: “This shows that [home secretary] Priti Patel, for all her tough talking, is failing even more badly than her predecessors to create an asylum system that is humane, fair and efficient.
“Perhaps if she spent more time on getting the basics right and less time on ‘fantasy island’ schemes to house asylum seekers we would all be better off.”
Lib Dem MP Munira Wilson added that the UK has a proud history of providing sanctuary to those in need, but accused the government of now “turning its back on refugees”.
She told Eastern Eye: “The way the Conservatives have allowed the Home Office to turn into such an incompetent, hostile environment is preventing people from living their lives.
“We must protect people forced to flee their homes, and end the undignified waits and treat people with compassion.”
Meanwhile, new rules that came into effect in December means that some non-UK nationals are facing losing their visas, having an application refused or being deported if they are found to be sleeping rough.
The regulations could affect “people on work, visitor or student visas; some victims of trafficking and modern slavery; people with UK ancestry visas” but exclude “most refugees and asylum seekers”, according to the Public Interest Law Centre.
Labour MP Apsana Begum said she believed the new rules needed “to be opposed”.
In response to the asylum application figures, the government said: “We do want to speed things up. Unfortunately, coronavirus has impacted decision making as it has so many elements of the public service system. We are very focused on making sure the system speeds up and that is a top priority for the coming year.”
Home secretary Priti Patel said in November the need for change in the UK’s asylum system “has never been clearer”.
She added: “With over 48,000 asylum cases stuck in this broken system, I will bring forward new legislation next year to ensure vulnerable people get the support they need instead of being stuck in the system waiting for a decision and unable to get on with rebuilding their lives. This also means ending abuse of the asylum system.”