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Government plans to clear Home Office's asylum-seeker backlog are ‘riddled with risk,’ refugee rights campaigners warn

TORY plans to clear some of the Home Office asylum backlog are “riddled with risk,” refugee rights campaigners have warned as new figures show a record 160,000 people in the queue.

Around 12,000 people from Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea, Libya and Yemen — who have an asylum grant rate of over 95 per cent — will be sent a questionnaire to fill in instead of having a face-to-face interview. 

The Home Office says this streamlined process will reduce some of its caseload backlog, following a pledge by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak earlier this year. 

Campaigners warn however that the initiative, which requires refugees to fill out a form in English within 20 days or risk their claim being withdrawn, has “serious flaws.”

Refugee Action chief executive Tim Naor Hilton said: “It’s riddled with risk, not least because people will have 20 days to complete their application in English without an interpreter or legal support or face having their claim withdrawn. 

“An answer to a question that’s not been properly understood could easily destroy someone’s application.”

Amnesty International warned that the fast-track plans were “too little too late” and risked creating “more injustice in the asylum system” if good claims are thrown out due to “unreasonable bureaucratic demands.” 

The plans were however welcomed by the UN refugee agency UNHCR, which said that streamlining claims for people from countries with very high grant rates should “meaningfully reduce the backlog.” 

It comes as official figures released today showed that the asylum backlog had swelled to 160,919 by the end of 2022 — an increase of 60 per cent compared to 2021 and the highest number since records began in 2010. 

More than 89,000 people claimed asylum in 2022, with the largest number of claims being made by Albanians and the second by Afghan nationals.

Of 45,755 people who arrived by small boat arrivals last year, just 1 per cent of claims have been processed. 

Shadow home secretary Yvetter Cooper said the figures show “truly shameful levels of incompetence” from the government. 

The Migration Observatory said that the increase in asylum applications last year is only one factor behind the backlog, with slow decision-making by the Home Office also to blame. 

Senior researcher Dr Peter Walsh said: “There’s no single explanation for this, but reasons include low morale and high turnover among Home Office case workers, the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, and extra steps in the asylum process that the government added in early 2021.”

Tens of thousands of asylum claims have been removed from the asylum system over the past two years under the government’s new inadmissibility rules. 

Despite this just 22 people were deported during the whole of 2022 after the Home Office determined their claim was inadmissible. 

Lawyers and campaigners warned when the rules were introduced in early 2021 that they would add another layer of delay into an already struggling system. 

The figures also show that the number of people arriving via the government’s refugee resettlement schemes decreased last year with just 1,185 people brought to the UK in 2022, a drop of 79 per cent compared to 2019. 

Just 22 Afghans, including eight children were resettled in the UK last year under one route in the government’s Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme. 

In contrast, the number of Afghans arriving to the UK by small boat rose six-fold to 8,633. 

The Refugee Council said the figures show the government “urgently needs to rethink its approach and expand access to refugee visas.”

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