The number of asylum applications refused or withdrawn has soared, prompting a charity to warn the Government these should not be used as a way to cut the backlog in the system.

Withdrawals last year were more than four times the number for 2022, while refusals in the final three months of 2023 hit their highest quarterly figure since 2001.

The figures, published by the Home Office on Thursday, saw the Refugee Council voice concern while a think tank predicted that the quick decisions could come back to haunt the Government in the form of a likely high number of appeals, fresh claims and returns.

People awaiting an initial decision on asylum application in the UK
(PA Graphics)

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said the Home Office had “surged through an exceptional number of asylum cases, with a sharp rise in both refusals and withdrawals”.

The figures coincided with a period where the Government was trying to clear the so-called legacy backlog of older cases in the system.

The statistics also confirm this backlog of cases – which can equate to more than one person – had not been cleared by the end of 2023, despite a claim to the contrary from the Prime Minister that he had fulfilled a promise to do so.

As of December 31, there were 3,902 legacy cases – those where applications were made before the end of June 2022 – awaiting an initial decision.

In January, the Home Office was reprimanded by the statistics watchdog after the Government was accused of lying about clearing part of the asylum backlog when figures were released up to December 28.

Asylum applications in the UK
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UK Statistics Authority chairman Sir Robert Chote warned the “episode may affect public trust” as he outlined the findings of the body’s investigation into complaints received about Rishi Sunak’s claim that ministers had “cleared” the outstanding cases in question.

A record number of people were granted protection, resettlement or an alternative form of leave in the UK last year, at 66,732 up from 24,423 in 2022.

Suella Braverman, who was home secretary during much of 2023, tweeted: “Britain will be unrecognisable if this carries on. It’s not what the British people, including me, voted for.”

But the Refugee Council said the record “clearly shows that the vast majority of men, women and children coming to the UK in search of safety are refugees” who have escaped war-torn countries.

Afghans were the most common nationality applying for asylum in the UK in 2023.

The latest figures also show that a total of 128,786 people were waiting for an initial decision on their asylum application at the end of last year.

The number was down by more than a quarter on the record high reached in June last year, when more than 175,000 people were awaiting a decision.

But despite the fall, the backlog was described as “sky-high, no matter which way you slice it” by the Liberal Democrats, while the British Red Cross said thousands of people are “stuck in indefinite limbo”.

There has been a rise in the non-legacy backlog – those applications made on or after June 28 2022, from 85,505 at the end of September to 91,350 at the end of December.

There were 24,027 withdrawals, relating to 25,583 people, in 2023, a steep rise from 5,255 withdrawn applications relating to 5,944 people in 2022.

Almost eight in 10 (79%) withdrawn applications last year were classed as “implicit withdrawals”, meaning the Home Office chose to withdraw the application rather than the applicant withdrawing it themselves.

Implicit withdrawals can include an applicant not attending an interview, failing to complete a questionnaire by a particular date, or not providing up-to-date contact information.

This was up from 56% in 2022 and the rise caused Enver Solomon, from the Refugee Council, to say: “Withdrawals should never be used as a way to reduce the backlog and should only be employed in certain, very specific circumstances.”

The organisation said withdrawals can have “terrible consequences”, with people “ending up destitute and cut off from much-needed support”.

Asylum applications in the UK awaiting an initial decision
(PA Graphics)

Some 15,380 asylum applications relating to 19,997 people were refused in the last quarter of 2023 – the highest number of applications refused in any three-month period since July to September 2001.

Sunder Katwala, director of the British Future think tank, gave credit to the Prime Minister for reducing the backlog of older cases, but said the latest figures “show how the Government has tackled one asylum backlog only to start building another”.

He added: “The Government has effectively suspended decision-making on all claims from people crossing the Channel.

“With little prospect of removals, this is now creating a new backlog, with new hardships and accommodation costs. It means the next government will start back at square one.”

Marley Morris, IPPR associate director for migration, trade and communities, said the Home Office must “decide how to handle the growing ‘perma-backlog’ of asylum claims which would be subject to the duty to remove under the Illegal Migration Act once it is implemented in full”.

POLITICS Migrants
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“Leaving these claims on hold indefinitely is bad for claimants stuck in limbo and bad for the Home Office, given the ongoing costs of accommodating people in hotels,” he said.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Withdrawing claims is not new. At each stage of the asylum process, individuals are warned about the importance of complying with the asylum process and that asylum claims can be withdrawn should they fail to do so.

“By promptly withdrawing asylum claims from non-compliant individuals, it ensures that resources are concentrated on those who genuinely wish to continue their asylum claims in the UK.

“We have met our pledge to clear the legacy asylum backlog by boosting efficiency, meeting our target to double the number of asylum case workers and tripling their productivity.”