12,000 asylum seekers to have cases fast-tracked in bid to clear backlog
Around 12,000 asylum seekers to the UK will have their claims fast-tracked with a questionnaire, the Home Office said.
The Home Office said a ten-page questionnaire would be used for asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Libya, Syria and Yemen who applied before last July.
Ministers hope it will help end the asylum backlog. Applicants from the countries usually have 95 per cent of their asylum claims accepted.
The Home Office is faced with having about 10 months to clear 92,601 initial asylum claims which were in the system as of the end of June 2022.
Rishi Sunak has pledged to reduce the asylum backlog by the end of the year and has vowed to “stop the boats" crossing the Channel.
Asylum seekers involved will be sent a 10-page questionnaire to fill out and asked to return it within an initial 20 working days.
Some campaigners criticised the plans as “clumsy" amid reports that asylum seekers will be told to fill out the form in English.
A Home Office letter published on Twitter by Sky News, which was addressed to “stakeholders" and set out the plans, warned asylum seekers risked having their claim “withdrawn" if they failed to return the questionnaire without a "reasonable explanation".
Officials insisted security checks would still be carried out as normal which would involve a face-to-face interview.
The Refugee Council’s chief executive, Enver Solomon, said moves to reduce the backlog were "welcome but the answer is not yet more bureaucratic hurdles and threats of applications being withdrawn", adding the process should be "well thought-out".
"As it stands, the Prime Minister will fail to meet his commitment to clear the backlog by the end of this year and, if he is serious about it, there must be a more ambitious, workable, person-centred approach that sees the face behind the case,” Mr Solomon said.
Labour’s shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said: “It’s damning that the Home Office isn’t doing this already, given Labour has been calling for the fast-tracking of cases - including for safe countries like Albania - for months and the UNHCR recommended it two years ago.
"Meanwhile, the asylum backlog has skyrocketed - up by 50 per cent since Rishi Sunak promised to clear it.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are working to speed up asylum processing so that people do not wait months or years in the backlog, at vast expense to the taxpayer, and to remove everyone who doesn’t have a legitimate reason to be here.
“To ensure our processes remain robust and all claims are properly considered, we have recruited hundreds of caseworkers to crack through cases.
“As part of these efforts to speed up the asylum process for high-grant nationalities, 12,000 asylum seekers who have made legacy asylum claims will be asked to provide details in a new Home Office questionnaire to help determine their case.
“If they do not reply, their asylum claim could be withdrawn."
The latest available Home Office figures, published in November, showed more than 140,000 asylum seekers were waiting for a decision on their claim after the backlog of applications soared by over 20,000 in three months.
The latest official data is due to be published on Thursday.