Inadmissible Asylum Seekers - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 4:30 pm ar 9 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 4:30, 9 Mai 2024

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord German, and all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. As noble Lords are aware, the UK has a long and proud tradition of providing safe haven to those who genuinely need our protection, and we remain committed to providing such protection, in accordance with our international obligations.

The matter of the Government’s proposed approach to addressing the cohort of individuals who have entered the United Kingdom since 7 March 2023 is therefore an important one. It may be helpful if I set out, in general terms, the Government’s approach and recent successes in clearing the asylum legacy backlog, give a brief update on the Government’s aims for deciding the asylum claims which have been made since 7 March and clarify how inadmissibility provisions will be applied. Before I do that, again none of the speakers addressed the simple question of why people have to claim asylum in the first safe country. It seems to be forgotten repeatedly and often that these arrivals in this country have all left a safe third country. It is a long-standing principle that those in need of genuine protection should claim asylum at the earliest opportunity, in the first safe country they reach, and this is the fastest route to safety.

I remind the House of the progress the Home Office made in 2023 in clearing asylum legacy backlog. As noble Lords will recall, the legacy backlog comprised 92,601 asylum claims lodged before 28 June 2022, when provisions within the Nationality and Borders Act came into force. The Prime Minister committed on 13 December 2022 to clear this backlog by the end of 2023. The Prime Minister’s commitment to clear the backlog was delivered at the end of the year and, in total, 112,000 asylum cases were processed in 2023. Increased efficiency and capacity saw the Home Office not just clear the backlog but exceed it by also processing over 25,000 asylum claims lodged on or after 28 June 2022. To achieve the success of 2023, the Government enhanced processing and deployed an additional 1,200 caseworkers, thus meeting the target to double the number of asylum caseworkers and increasing productivity.

As of 14 April 2024, there were 2,545 full-time equivalent decision-makers in post, answering the question of the noble Lord, Lord German. That is nearly double the number of asylum caseworkers in April 2023. In addition, the streamlined asylum process was developed as part of the legacy backlog clearance strategy for adults. It centred around accelerating the processing of manifestly well-founded asylum claims from legacy claimants of certain nationalities, such as those from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Libya, Syria, Yemen and, more recently, Sudan. This involved the use of an asylum questionnaire provided to claimants allowing them to explain why they required protection status in the UK. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees welcomed the introduction of the streamlined asylum process, publicly stating

“Removing the requirement for substantive interviews through the use of a questionnaire for asylum seekers from certain countries with very high grant rates should meaningfully reduce the current backlog of cases awaiting adjudication. Simultaneously, the procedure should uphold appropriate safeguards by maintaining individual interviews before any negative decisions are made”.

Since April 2023, children’s claims from high grant rate nationals of Afghanistan, Eritrea, Sudan, Syria and Vietnam have also been considered through the streamlined asylum process. It remains a key priority to consider claims as efficiently as possible, to clear the asylum backlog and to reduce the number of people on asylum support, in turn reducing the burden on taxpayers. By our speeding up decision-making, asylum seekers are given the certainty they need to plan for their future. In 2024, flow claims—those lodged on or after 28 June 2022 and before 7 March 2023, as well as asylum claims from those who arrived before 7 March 2023—are being prioritised now that the legacy claims have been cleared.

The Home Office has continued to build on existing processes and systems in its approach to tackling this latest cohort of claims. For example, the streamlined asylum process was extended to include eligible claimants from 28 June 2022 to 6 March 2023. During July 2023, the streamlined asylum process for children’s claims was also rolled out to claims from the same nationalities lodged from 28 June 2022 until 6 March 2023. We have recently redesigned the statement of evidence form for children, making the process quicker and more streamlined. The process for accompanied and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children enables cases to be progressed more quickly.  The latest provisional data shows that, as of 14 April 2024, there were 7,358 outstanding claims made on or after 28 June 2022 and before 7 March 2023. This demonstrates that we are making good progress on clearing the remaining claims. That means that the Government have made excellent recent progress in clearing both the legacy and, shortly, the flow backlog of asylum claims. The Government remain committed to their objective of deterring illegal migration to the UK and stopping the boats.

The Government are clear that those who fear persecution should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach, and not put their lives at risk by making unnecessary and dangerous journeys to the UK. Illegal migration from safe countries undermines our efforts to help those most in need. Controlled resettlement, via safe and legal routes, is the best way to protect such people and disrupt the organised crime groups that exploit migrants and refugees.