THOUSANDS of people fleeing conflict and persecution are being caught up in the Government’s asylum vortex of unprocessed claims, Amnesty International said on 27 February as it published a damning new report on the system.

Amnesty’s new nine-page briefing – Gambling with lives: how a bad policy wrecked the UK asylum system – provides a detailed analysis of the Government’s primary policy, which has been an outright refusal to process the asylum claims of tens of thousands of people seeking asylum and how the “disastrous consequences” of this policy has spiralled as ministers repeatedly double-down on this policy.

The briefing highlights that over the last three years, the UK authorities have deliberately “overwhelmed the asylum system” by causing an alarming backlog of asylum claims to build up. Rather than change the policy that has caused this, the Government has resorted to increasingly harmful measures to avoid facing up to the damage they are doing. Those measures include confining people on barges or isolating them in filthy and decrepit former barracks, and threatening them with removal to Rwanda. Ministers have also made a string of statements which have denigrated and vilified refugees.

The policy – first introduced on 31 December 2020 and intensified ever since – is in clear breach of international law and the UK’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention and has left an increasing number of people in limbo, their status and future unresolved. Outstanding applications stood at 124,461 at last count, compared to 29,233 applications at the end of 2019.

Amnesty’s briefing shows that there are two factors that have made this increase inevitable. One is the direct impact of the policy, with ministers choosing not to admit, consider or decide asylum claims – meaning that people have been left indefinitely waiting for a decision which may never come. The other is the Government’s inability to remove people caught by the policy, many of whom are actually entitled to asylum in the UK.

Despite ministers claiming that these policies are designed to reduce the loss of life and risk of exploitation by people smugglers, there has been substantial loss of life during attempted Channel crossings in recent years. According to the International Organisation for Migration 239 people died or went missing on the Channel crossing since 2014. The most recent loss of life at sea occurred on 14 January, when five people died, while the worst recorded incident at sea was on 24 November 2021, when 31 people drowned.

Amnesty’s briefing shows that on top of the inhuman aspect of the Government’s policies, the cost of not processing people’s claims is also a staggering waste of public money.

In 2012-2013, annual asylum costs were recorded as £201 million, seven years later, in 2019-2020, they had risen to £470 million. In 2020-21, the year in which the non-processing policy was introduced, they rose to £814 million, and in 2022-2023, they went above £3 billion.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Director, said: “The Government has trapped people in an asylum vortex that has disastrous consequences for them and the whole system.

“For three years, the Government has pursued this immoral and ineffective policy of refusing to process tens of thousands of people’s claims for asylum in the UK in the miserable hope that this might deter other people from seeking asylum here. Enough is enough – not only has it not worked for the Government, it is doing multiple harms.

“It is costing more lives, causing increased misery and has completely overwhelmed the asylum system at eyewatering cost. Rather than heed warnings or evidence of the extraordinary human and financial harm it is doing, the Government has repeatedly doubled-down on its anti-refugee policy each time hugely increasing the harm.This must stop. Not only must the Safety of Rwanda bill be rejected by Parliament, the Government must completely unravel its cruel and reckless policy of refusing to process the claims the UK receives.”

Repairing the damage

Amnesty says the Government must urgently repair the damage it has done by refusing to determine people’s claims to asylum. The way ahead is clear: abandon the current policy and re-focus the asylum system to determine the asylum claims people make in the UK as efficiently and fairly as possible. It is imperative that the Government ensures that anyone who is identified as being in need of safety has their claims recognised as quickly as possible, and in circumstances that will best enable them to get on with their lives and integrate well.

It is vital the Government co-operates with other countries in the longer term which may include making arrangements to return them safely to their countries of origin. Arrangements should also be made to make it possible for people to seek asylum in the UK without having to rely on smuggling gangs to enter the country, particularly if they have family or other connections here. Together, governments can undermine smuggling gangs and provide the safety that people fleeing persecution need and are entitled to – but only if they share responsibility. That starts with each country operating an effective asylum system, taking responsibility for the claims they receive.

* Read: Gambling with lives: how a bad policy wrecked the UK asylum system here.

* Source: Amnesty International