Tens of thousands of people seeking asylum in the United Kingdom are being made to wait for more than a year for a decision, leaving them in a “cruel and unjust” state of limbo, a UK charity has warned.
A study by the Refugee Council, published on Friday, found that 33,016 people had been waiting for 12 months or longer for a decision in 2020, up from 3,588 people in 2010 – a jump of more than 800 percent.
Overall, 66,185 people were awaiting an initial verdict on their status at the end of March this year, the highest number in more than a decade and up from 7,375 in March 2011.
Enver Solomon, head of the Refugee Council, said: “Leaving vulnerable men, women and children waiting for years on end for news of their fate in what feels like a never-ending state of limbo is cruel and unjust.
“It is an incredibly inefficient, ineffective and unfair way to operate a refugee protection system.”
The mounting backlog was driven by a failure to process cases at pace with the number of applications being made, as well as pandemic-related delays, the charity said.
It noted the health crisis had ushered in changes in Home Office practices which harmed efficiency, such as the suspension of interviews during a first national lockdown in early 2020.
The rise in the number of children waiting lengthy periods for decisions was even more precipitous. Some 6,687 had been waiting more than a year for an initial decision on their case in 2020, compared with 563 a decade earlier – a jump of more than 1,000 percent.
Among those waiting, more than 250 people – including 55 children – had been left in limbo for five or more years.
The Refugee Council, whose report was based on a Freedom of Information request, said the average waiting time for an initial decision was likely to be between one and three years.
The charity’s report cited one asylum seeker who is still awaiting a decision on his case after arriving in the UK with his wife and two children in 2018, having escaped kidnapping and persecution in his home country.
“Sometimes the Home Office writes to us to say that we’ll have our interview in six months, but they have so many times, I can no longer rely on their word,” Ahmad, whose name was changed to protect his anonymity, was quoted as saying.
“Your day starts waiting for a letter and ends like this, every day is like this.”
He continued: “I cannot work here. I have two degrees, one in Economics and one in Law, but it means nothing here. I love studying and learning. I was planning on going to university here, do a short-term course here, but time is running out.
“I am 35 already; maybe I won’t get my status until I am 40 and there’ll be no point to get an education, and I will be thinking about my children’s education.”
Gov’t plans to ‘fix broken asylum system’
The charity’s findings come as the UK’s ruling Conservative Party pushes ahead with plans to overhaul asylum laws.
The government is expected to put its Nationality and Borders Bill before Parliament next week.
It will reportedly include a controversial provision that, if approved, would enable authorities to create an Australian-style offshore immigration processing centre for the first time.
Officials are seeking to stem the number of migrants and refugees arriving via English Channel boat crossings and deport those who enter without documentation.
More than 8,000 people made such a crossing last year, according to a BBC report based on Home Office figures. It has been widely reported that the rate of crossings has increased this year.
The government’s reforms were likely to lead to “even longer waits with even more people condemned to years of worry and uncertainty”, said Solomon.
“We need a system that works by making timely decisions and ensures everybody in need of safety gets a fair hearing … Competence and compassion are what matters.”
Asked by Al Jazeera what the Home Office was doing to address the asylum queue, a spokesperson said it was “determined to clear the backlog” and prevent people remaining in the system for long periods.
The government plans “will fix the broken asylum system”, the spokesperson said, claiming it has been “abused by those who have come here illegally, leading to increased numbers in the system and preventing genuine cases being looked at quickly”.