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Ministers must grant leave to remain to refugees stuck in the government's broken asylum system

Campaigners call on the government to end its ‘cruel obsession with deterrence’ after figures show over 175,400 people are still waiting for an initial decision on their asylum applications

TORY ministers must grant leave to remain to refugees who have waited more than a year for a decision on their asylum claim, campaigners said today after the claims backlog hit record highs.

A whopping 175,457 people were waiting for an initial decision on their asylum applications at the end of June, according to Home Office figures published today – up 44 per cent from the same month last year and the highest figure ever recorded.

And in another record, eight out of 10 claimants – 139,961 people – had been left waiting longer than six months for an initial decision as of early summer, up 57 per cent in a year, the floundering government department admitted.

The number of cases awaiting a decision rose a little under 1 per cent in the three months to the end of June, suggesting increases may be slowing down.

“This is in part due to an increase in the number of initial decisions made and an increase in the number of asylum decision-makers employed,” the Home Office claimed.

But Refugee Action urged a change of approach, calling on ministers to give asylum-seekers leave to remain if they end up waiting more than a year for a decision on a claim.

They are barred from working while waiting for a decision and delays force taxpayers to cover the high costs of emergency accommodation. 

The charity’s head of asylum services Rachel Goodall said: “The huge backlog in asylum decision-making is a product of the government’s hostile environment and it is causing immense suffering to refugees who just want to get on with their lives.

“It has forced thousands of people into inappropriate housing such as former hotels, prison ships and Ministry of Defence sites from which only the private firms trousering millions in taxpayer-funded profits benefit.

“Ministers must stop their cruel obsession with deterrence and focus on workable and rights-based solutions.

“This includes giving leave to remain to anyone who has waited more than 12 months for a decision on their claim, scrapping its inadmissibility policy and allowing people to work while they wait.”

Amnesty International UK’s Steve Valdez-Symonds slammed the “utterly disgraceful” fact that “new asylum laws are being introduced to actually prevent the processing of claims altogether, which will make this backlog, its cost and the limbo it imposes on people even worse.”

The human rights body joined with civil servants’ union PCS and many other rights groups earlier this year to condemn the government’s new Illegal Migration Bill, which criminalises refugees arriving via “irregular routes” – despite the lack of options for safe passage. 

“Repression and conflict in places like Afghanistan, Iran and Sudan aren’t easing, and the UK’s contribution to protecting victims is meagre compared to our EU neighbours, let alone many far poorer countries elsewhere,” Mr Valdez-Symonds said.

“Ministers pretend to care about exploitation by people smugglers and deaths at sea – but it is ministers who allow smugglers to thrive because of their refusal to set up safe, official routes to seek asylum.”

PCS head of bargaining Paul O’Connor called for more resources for the Home Office, including “properly training and paying staff so they can carry out the work quickly, efficiently and humanely.” 

And Labour accused ministers of creating “complete chaos in the immigration and asylum system.”

Shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s “disastrous record is currently costing taxpayers £6 million a day.”

A Home Office spokesperson said it remained committed to reducing levels of immigration.

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