As the world lived through the Covid-19 pandemic for most of 2020, it is unsurprising to see the pandemic had a significant impact on UK asylum system. The latest immigration statistics published today illustrate the impact on applications, decisions, asylum support and resettlement.
The number of applications for asylum fell by 18% in 2020, down, likely due to more limited travel routes for those seeking protection. The fall in the number of people claiming asylum stands in contrast to much of the media coverage and political commentary in 2020 which often suggested the contrary.
Today’s statistics tell a story of more people in need of international protection having to wait longer for decisions; this is predictable given the context of the coronavirus, although it should be noted that large backlogs existed prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The number of people living on asylum support rose to over 60,000 in light of decisions not to evict people during periods of national lockdown. Whilst we welcome the fact that fewer people were evicted into destitution and homelessness, including those granted asylum, we should not forget that each of those individuals is living on less than £40 per week, often in temporary accommodation for extended periods, as they anxiously wait to be allowed to rebuild their lives in safety.
The number of people waiting for an initial decision on their asylum claim continued to rise, reaching a record high of 64,895. Of these, 46,796 (72%) have been waiting for more than 6 months, up from 29,233 the previous year.
The numbers of people arriving in the UK to join their refugee family members fell by 27% in 2020, as international travel restrictions were imposed and Visa application centres closed overseas. We are encouraged to see that these figures started to recover in the second half of 2020.
We are incredibly disappointed to see the UK only resettled 823 refugees in 2020. Whilst we recognise the need to pause resettlement at the beginning of the pandemic, the government was slow to restart the resettlement programmes, even once international flights resumed. Many countries restarted their programmes safely much earlier than the UK.
Lisa Doyle, Director of Advocacy at the Refugee Council responded to today’s figures
“One of the few things that doesn’t halt in a pandemic is the persecution and harm suffered by people who need to seek refuge, a very small proportion of whom seek protection in the UK. Whilst the pressure on the asylum support system is understandable, many people have been forced to live in sub-standard accommodation, isolated from communities and specialist services who can provide much needed help.
We urge the Government to ensure that people can live in dignity with appropriate support while waiting for decisions on their asylum claims, and to be bold in its commitments to resettle more people into communities across the UK”