Sunak Declares Asylum Backlog Is Cleared as Labour Disputes the Claimthedigitalchaps


Some 4,500 ‘complex cases’ remain outstanding among over 92,000 legacy claims the prime minister vowed to process, with 94,062 new claims added to the pile.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s pledge to “abolish” legacy asylum backlog by 2023 has been delivered, the Home Office said, while Labour accused the government of “cooking the books.”

In a statement published on Tuesday, the Home Office said Mr. Sunak’s “commitment of clearing the legacy asylum backlog has been delivered.”

The press release said officials have processed more than 112,000 asylum cases in 2023—and the highest annual number of substantive decisions in a year since 2002—thanks to “increased efficiency.”

The prime minister claimed the government is “saving the taxpayer millions of pounds in expensive hotel costs, reducing strain on public services, and ensuring the most vulnerable receive the right support” by clearing the backlog.

Mr. Sunak pledged in Dec. 2022 to “abolish” the asylum applications backlog by the end of 2023. The target was later clarified to mean some 92,000 outstanding applications that had been submitted before June 28, 2022, when new rules in the Nationality and Borders Act took effect.

The Home Office now says all cases in the legacy backlog have been reviewed, with 86,800 decisions made; however, “4,500 complex cases have been highlighted that require additional checks or investigation for a final decision to be made.”

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The remaining cases typically involve “asylum seekers presenting as children—where age verification is taking place; those with serious medical issues; or those with suspected past convictions, where checks may reveal criminality that would bar asylum,” the department added.

According to Home Office data published on Tuesday, there were 90,704 legacy cases awaiting a decision at the end of 2022, and 4,537 remaining legacy cases by the end of 2023.

The overall number of asylum applications awaiting an initial decision was 98,599 by the end of 2023, almost 18 percent down from a year ago (135,959).

 Home Office data on asylum applications awaiting an initial decision, published on Jan. 2, 2024. (The Epoch Times)
Home Office data on asylum applications awaiting an initial decision, published on Jan. 2, 2024. (The Epoch Times)

Labour’s shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock said the asylum backlog has “rocketed under the Tories.”

“No slicing or renaming the figures can disguise that fact,” he said.

Mr. Kinnock also accused the government of making “false” claims.

“Even their claims to have cleared the so-called ‘legacy backlog’ are false,” he said. “Over 4,000 claims are unresolved, and a disturbing 17,000 asylum seekers have simply been ‘withdrawn’ by the Tories from this legacy backlog, with ministers seeming to have no idea where they are and whether they are reapplying or disappearing into the underground economy.”

Home Office guidance published in February last year said legacy claimants who had not had an interview would instead be given 20 to 30 days to fill a questionnaire, and those who fail to return the questionnaire within 30 days and don’t apply for a further extension may have their applications treated as “withdrawn.”

The latest Home Office data show a total of 6,068 cases were treated as “withdrawn” in the first quarter of 2023, compared to 1,652 cases in the previous quarter.

 Home Office data on the number of "withdrawn" asylum applications by March 2023. (The Epoch Times)
Home Office data on the number of “withdrawn” asylum applications by March 2023. (The Epoch Times)

Kinnock accused the government of “cooking the books.”

“They need to come clean on how many of these ‘withdrawn’ asylum seekers are simply getting the green light to drift off into Britain’s underground economy, never to be heard of again, and how many are being removed from the UK,” he told the Independent.

Downing Street told reporters the government is “being very transparent” about what its claim entails.

“We have processed all of those cases and indeed gone further than the original commitment. We’re up to 112,000 decisions made overall,” Mr. Sunak’s official spokesman said.

“As a result of that process, there are a small minority of cases which are complex and which, because of our rigorous standards, require further work. But nonetheless, it is a significant piece of work by Home Office officials to process such huge numbers in a short period of time while retaining our rigorous safety standard.”

 A group of people thought to be migrants crossing the Channel in a small boat travelling from the coast of France and heading in the direction of Dover, Kent, on Aug. 29, 2023. (PA)
A group of people thought to be migrants crossing the Channel in a small boat travelling from the coast of France and heading in the direction of Dover, Kent, on Aug. 29, 2023. (PA)

According to the Home Office, the grant rate for asylum decisions in 2023 was 67 percent, compared to 76 percent in 2022 and 72 percent in 2021.

The department also said it has “returning more than 24,000 people who have no right to be in the UK, including more than 5,500 Albanians” in 2023, ramped up enforcement visits, and made 246 arrests of people smugglers.

Commenting on X, formerly known as Twitter, GB News presenter and former Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, accused the government of failure.

“In an effort to rush through the Asylum backlog, this morning [Mr. Sunak] boasts he has granted 50,000 new applications. The Conservatives have failed us all,” he wrote.

Robert Jenrick, who resigned as immigration minister last month over a disagreement with the government on the Rwanda bill, claimed the civil servants were able to meet the target because of reductions in “unnecessary paperwork,” better workflow, and a “culture shock” of accountability.

Writing on X, Mr. Jenrick also said clearing the backlog “is just managing the symptoms of the problem, not solving it,” adding, “The only thing that matters is stopping illegal arrivals. ”

He said those whose claims were rejected “will appeal and frustrate their removal, many ultimately using the ECHR” and those are granted will “overwhelmingly … remain dependent on the state for decades to come.”

Whitehall’s spending watchdog said in June that efforts to clear the asylum backlog needed to significantly increase to meet Mr. Sunak’s target and questioned whether the plans were sustainable.

The National Audit Office also estimated £3.6 billion was spent on asylum support in 2022-2023, almost double the amount in the previous year.

MPs later asked senior Home Office officials how the target was being met, as figures showed 17,316 asylum applications were withdrawn in the year to Sept. 2023—a sharp rise which was more than four times the number for the previous year when there were 4,260. They also expressed surprise when the officials suggested the department did not know the whereabouts of these asylum seekers.

The Commons Home Affairs Committee heard in November that claims were withdrawn when asylum seekers did not turn up for interviews or complete questionnaires and were “not engaging with the system that leads to a decision.”

Other reasons included when someone had already left the UK before their claim was considered or if they chose to pursue another application for permission to stay in the country, according to the department.

The Home Office said more caseworkers had been tasked with processing applications, which was “tripling productivity to ensure more illegal migrants are returned to their country of origin, quicker.”

But last month the department’s top civil servant, permanent secretary Sir Matthew Rycroft, revealed in a letter to MPs that since 2020, just 1,182 migrants who had crossed the Channel had been returned to their home country out of a total of more than 111,800 who arrived in that time period.

The majority of those were from Albania—a country with which the UK has a returns agreement—and there were only 420 who were sent back to other countries.

Asked if that was an “acceptable figure” by the Home Affairs Committee, illegal migration minister Michael Tomlinson replied, “As far as I’m concerned, the numbers need to be significantly higher than they are.”

PA Media contributed to this report.