Social Justice

50,000 asylum seekers trapped in 'never-ending limbo' by Home Office, think tank says

Despite Rishi Sunak's boast to have claimed one backlog, experts warn another backlog could leave tens of thousands of asylum seekers in peril, with no easy solutions

Home secretary James Cleverly. Image: Andy Taylor/Home Office/Flickr

The Home Office will be trapping up to 50,000 asylum seekers in a “perma backlog” even after clearing the legacy asylum backlog, leaving them vulnerable to destitution and abuse, a think tank has warned.

New laws and the inadequacies of the government’s Rwanda plan mean tens of thousands will be stuck in the asylum system indefinitely.

The only solution would be for a new government to repeal the new Illegal Migration Act or for the current government to start processing claims, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has said in a new study.

“Chaos in the home office has led to tens of thousands of asylum seekers stuck in a perma-backlog, unable to get on with their lives and costing the taxpayer millions,” said Marley Morris, associate director for migration at IPPR. 

“This was an entirely predictable outcome of the Illegal Migration Act. The only way to escape this situation is for the Home Office to start processing claims.” 

Around 20,000 asylum seekers who arrived between March and July 2023 are subject to a “temporary barrier” on their claims being processed. Earlier in February, the Home Office confirmed it was pausing cases of those who arrived from January 1 2022 and who had been told before June 29 2023 that they could be removed to Rwanda.

Meanwhile, the government’s Illegal Migration Act, when it comes into force, will mean those who arrived by “irregular means” from July 2023 must be sent home, or to Rwanda, and their claims cannot be processed in the UK. However, many who have arrived from unsafe countries cannot be sent home, and the government’s plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda is currently not running. As a result, IPPR estimates this number, totalling about 30,000 asylum seekers, will also be stuck in limbo.

“Effectively, it appears they’ve paused all these claims because they don’t yet have the Rwanda legislation through. They don’t have a viable plan for Rwanda, they’re basically not processing those claims,” Morris told the Big Issue.

Even if put in place, the Rwanda scheme is unlikely to stop thousands from coming to the UK to claim asylum. “Our view is that it’s unlikely to have the deterrent effect the government claims, so the reality is we will get this crisis and actually legislation will be needed.”

The government’s solution is to send asylum seekers to Rwanda for their claims to be processed. But a High Court ruling found the scheme to be unlawful and no planes have left so far, putting the number of asylum seekers to be processed under the plan in doubt.

The initial site for processing in Rwanda – Hope Hostel – has capacity for 200 asylum seekers, while home secretary James Cleverly said in December there is “no inherent upper limit on the totality” of the scheme’s capacity.

“Effectively putting significant numbers of asylum claims in a deep freeze is creating chaos, driving up costs and leaving refugees stuck in a never-ending limbo, at risk of destitution, exploitation and abuse,” Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, told the Big Issue.

“We as a country must ensure that we continue our long tradition of providing people with a fair hearing on UK soil so that refugees in need of protection can rebuild their lives in safety. Upholding the right to asylum remains as important as ever and we cannot turn our backs on people who want to be safe in our communities.”

Amnesty International has accused the government of deliberately overwhelming the asylum system by letting claims build up and resorting to confining asylum seekers to barges and barracks rather than reforming.

Although Rishi Sunak boasted of clearing the ‘legacy backlog’ of older asylum claims, the overall backlog now sits at 124,461, with the cost of the asylum system ballooning to £3bn.

“Not only does the government’s deterrent strategy not work, but it is also costing more lives, causing increased misery and has completely overwhelmed the asylum system at eye-watering cost,” said Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director.

A Home Office spokesperson told the Big Issue: “We met the prime minister’s pledge to clear the legacy backlog of asylum cases made before 28 June 2022 and all of those cases have been reviewed. Now we are working through the next cohort of applications.

“We are beginning to implement measures in the Illegal Migration Act following the Supreme Court’s judgment on Rwanda and alongside the Safety of Rwanda Bill going through parliament, delivering against this government’s priority of tackling illegal migration.”  

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