UK to simplify asylum claims in bid to clear record backlog

The UK plans to fast-track certain asylum applications as official data released Thursday showed the backlog of those waiting for a decision hit a record number last year of over 160,000.

Thousands of applicants from certain countries will be sent a short questionnaire rather than automatically facing an interview, according to a leaked document seen by British media.

The questionnaires will be sent to asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Libya and Syria, nationalities whose acceptance rate for some kind of protection currently stands at over 90 percent.

The move has angered both sides of the immigration debate, with the Red Cross warning it could have a "devastating impact" on vulnerable refugees, while right wing newspaper the Daily Mail said it amounted to an "amnesty" for 12,000 migrants.

A total of 160,919 asylum seekers were awaiting a decision as of December 31 and 109,641 among them have been waiting more than six months.

The total represents a 17,542 rise since September, and an annual increase of more than 60,000.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pledged to reduce the backlog by the end of the year, and also to "stop the boats" crossing the Channel.

More than 45,000 migrants crossed the Channel to the UK from mainland Europe in 2022, surpassing the previous year's record by more than 17,000.