Home Office asylum pressures mounting amid Afghanistan crisis

Analysis: pandemic compounded logjam in asylum accommodation as evictions were paused

When it comes to provision of asylum seeker and refugee accommodation, the Home Office is facing a perfect storm: huge backlogs in the processing of asylum claims, the pandemic, and now the rapidly unfolding refugee crisis caused by the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.

But while the cocktail is unprecedented, the overall numbers the Home Office is dealing with are not.

In the year ending March 2021, 26,903 asylum applications were made, a 24% decrease on the previous year. The drop in refugee resettlement was even more stark. Between March 2014 and February 2021 the UK resettled 20,319 people under the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme. A new scheme launched this year before the Afghan crisis unfolded – the UK resettlement scheme – resettled just 25 people in the first three months of the year. So it cannot be said that this scheme was deluged with new arrivals immediately before the Taliban takeover.

Previously the Home Office had a target of making initial decisions on 98% of straightforward asylum claims within six months. By May 2019 it had abandoned that target. At the end of March 2021, 66,185 people were waiting for a decision on their asylum claim, of whom 50,084 – 76% – had been waiting more than six months.

There is speculation that the delays are due to the Home Office not wanting to appear a “soft touch” by granting asylum claims too speedily, including straightforward and bona fide protection claims. It is also presumed that within the Home Office the processing of these claims is not seen as a priority.

The pandemic also compounded the logjam in asylum accommodation as evictions of those no longer deemed eligible were paused. All of this means people are staying longer in unsafe accommodation.

This low standard of accommodation in some hotels and group housing is well documented, with frequent reports of everything from inedible food provided in hotels to cockroaches and collapsed ceilings. Some vulnerable asylum seekers have even been ordered to be rehoused from hotels and other housing by the high court due to the standards of their accommodation.

Organisations such as the Refugee Council and Care4Calais have documented the poor conditions in recent reports.

Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, said that among the hundreds of asylum seekers accommodated in hotels whom his organisation had worked with, some reported feeling abandoned without the support they need.

“Some are left for months on end in total despair and at times becoming suicidal. It’s vital every person being accommodated in hotels is given the right support, including access to legal advice, healthcare, basic clothing and essential services,” he said.

Clare Moseley, the founder of the charity Care4Calais, which provides support on the ground to asylum seekers and refugees, said the Home Office’s Afghan citizens resettlement scheme appeared to be better organised than some of its other accommodation initiatives, with move-on plans in place for this group after a short initial period in hotels.

But for many the problems continued, she said. “The Home Office objective appears to be to give asylum to as few people as possible rather than giving it to the people who actually need it. This leads to unnecessary legal challenges which cause delays in the system and waste resources.”


Diane Taylor

The GuardianTramp

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