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Asylum Claims

Volume 837: debated on Monday 25 March 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government how many asylum claims are currently waiting to be determined.

My Lords, at the end of December 2023, there were 95,252 cases in the asylum system, 28% fewer than at the end of December 2022. Claims lodged on or after 28 June 2022 and before 7 March 2023, when the Illegal Migration Bill was introduced, are being prioritised now that the legacy backlog has been cleared. We continue to review and improve processes to accelerate decision-making while maintaining the integrity of the system.

My Lords, when do the Government expect to process the claims of the 55,000 or more people who arrived since March 2023, especially the 22,000 or so who arrived between March 2023 and July 2023, who are not covered by the possibility of being sent to Rwanda?

My Lords, those who arrive illegally and fall into scope of the Act will be banned from obtaining any form of lawful immigration status in the UK. So, since 7 March 2023, anyone who has arrived illegally may be unable to obtain settlement or citizenship or re-enter the UK using a lawful migration route. As we bring more of the powers of the Act into force, those who have arrived illegally will also be unable to obtain any form of temporary permission to stay in the UK, other than in very limited circumstances.

My Lords, in considering measures for sustainably managing waiting times for asylum claims, does my noble friend agree that a balanced approach, which effectively deters economic migrants while prioritising the timely processing of genuine asylum seekers, is essential for maintaining the integrity and efficiency of the asylum system?

My noble friend makes a very good point. On the subject of productivity and the processing of claims, the decision output has increased significantly over the past 24 months. In fact, it has more than tripled as we have worked to deliver commitments to process the legacy backlog. For example, in November 2023, the average per decision-maker was about 7.89 initial decisions. The year before, that number was more like 2.6—so efficiency is very much improving.

I cannot answer that question in its entirety, but I can say that the number of complex legacy cases that remain has declined from about 4,500 to 3,900. Some of those are still in the country, but I do not know precisely how many.

My Lords, the Oxford criminology department’s report, The Criminalisation of People Arriving to the UK on Small Boats, has said:

“There is no evidence that these prosecutions will have the ‘deterrent’ effect … Rather than minimising harm to people crossing the Channel, this report has highlighted the significant human impact of the current prosecution strategy”.

Will the Government review this report in light of what is happening at the moment?

Well, I will certainly commit to read it, but I wonder how on earth it can arrive at a conclusion that they will have no deterrent effect. The Bill has not been operationalised or indeed passed yet.

My Lords, the Minister will know about the concern expressed last week from all quarters of your Lordships’ House about the position of Afghans who had supported our servicemen or translators while they did honourable duty in Afghanistan. The Ministry of Defence said it was going to review their cases. Can the Minister give us any idea how long it is going to take for those to be resolved?

I have to say to the noble Lord that his question is best directed to the MoD, but he will know that it is also an ongoing discussion we are still having in the context of the Bill.

My Lords, can the Minister update the House on returns agreements with safe countries? In particular, I am thinking of Egypt, as well as other safe Middle Eastern countries.

Again, I am afraid that is rather outside this department’s remit, but I will endeavour to find out the current status and come back to the noble Lord.

Can my noble friend the Minister explain why British courts and tribunals grant asylum to 75% of those who make applications here on first application, whereas French courts grant asylum to only 25% of those making asylum applications on first application? Given that they are both applying the same international laws and agreements, are the French being unduly harsh or the British unduly lenient?

I suspect it is not a particularly binary answer. Obviously, some of the cases we are looking at will involve people from Afghanistan, as the noble Lord will be aware, and we probably had rather more involvement in that particular situation than the French did. I would imagine it depends very much on the circumstances before the courts, but I cannot really answer the question.

My Lords, the Minister claims some credit for starting to deal with the backlog. What have the Government been doing for 13 years to make that backlog?

The Minister does not claim any credit at all for removing the backlog, but I applaud the department for having done so. The situation, as the noble Lord will be aware, has changed very dramatically in the world over the last 13 years.

My Lords, the sacked chief inspector has expressed concern that clearing the legacy backlog at all costs has led to perverse outcomes. This includes a soaring in the number of claims deemed to have been withdrawn but counted as outcomes without proper quality assurance, which he declared was not acceptable. Will the Government now publish data showing the reasons for this big increase in the number of claims deemed to be withdrawn, as called for by the British Red Cross?

I remind the House that the previous inspector was let go because he broke the terms of his contract, so I would argue that he has been somewhat discredited. Withdrawals can happen for a number of reasons, for example where somebody has already left the UK before their claim was concluded or where they fail to comply with the asylum process. There is a large number of reasons why withdrawals are made.

My Lords, India was recently designated a safe country, along with Georgia, Albania and other countries. How many claims have been processed for India and what was the reason for designating India as a safe country?

We debated that at some length last week and I will not go over the reasons again. I am afraid that I do not have those statistics.

My Lords, how many of these asylum seekers are children and what happens to them if their claims fail?

My Lords, there were 3,412 asylum applications from unaccompanied children in the year ending December 2023. That was 41% fewer than in 2022. They make up about 5% of total asylum applications. Of those, 2,446 were aged 16 or 17. Noble Lords will be aware that there are commitments in the Bill going through the House, and in the treaty, that unaccompanied asylum seekers will not be removed to Rwanda.

My Lords, the National Audit Office published a report on 20 March expressing the view that government plans to relocate asylum seekers from hotels to larger sites are actually proving more expensive than the hotel accommodation. Is this affecting the Government’s long-term strategy for offering safe accommodation?

My Lords, the Government’s long-term strategy is a current subject of discussion via various other Bills. We will be closing all our hotels; we will have closed more than 100 by the end of March. Clearly, having hotels occupied by migrants is not optimal, and of course that goes to inform long-term strategic thinking.

What progress is being made on police co-operation across Europe to target people traffickers, not just at the point of the channel but across the entire continent?

My Lords, there has been a considerable amount of progress. In March 2023, we signed a deal with France which, as noble Lords will be aware, has more than doubled the number of French personnel deployed across northern France. Most recently, we signed a working agreement with Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. This long-term framework will provide the UK with access to new levers and intelligence to make our and the EU’s borders safer and more secure—as well as emphasising a shared commitment to close co-operation to tackle these organised crime gangs.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that possession of identity cards would make the handling of this situation a great deal easier?

My Lords, I think the noble Lord has asked that question before—and last time I got myself into a bit of hot water by sort of agreeing with him, so I will not do so again.

My Lords, a Member on the Benches opposite recently said that Rwanda was safe as long as one did not oppose the Government. Is that the way that this Government are going—so we are all safe as long as we do not oppose them?

I point the noble Baroness to Scotland, where of course the Green Party is propping up the SNP Government. Are we safe there?