This week the UK government released its quarterly immigration statistics bulletin. The statistics cover a range of entry routes into the UK, including asylum applications. Given the current attention to irregular crossings in the English Channel and the drowning of at least 27 people off the coast of France on their way to the UK, I wrote down a few observations that may contribute to a more informed debate on how to address the issue of safeguarding the right to claim asylum in the context of increasingly restrictive mobility regimes.
First, slow asylum processing time – which is only partly due to Covid despite what Priti Patel said on Tuesday at Oral Questions in Parliament, data shows that already in 2019 the government had somehow gave up on its 6 months goal – distorts success rate figures as only relatively easy cases get decided quickly. So the UK looks more ‘generous’ than it is. The reality is that there is a very large pending caseload with thousands of people in protracted uncertainty and living on subsidies with no right to work (especially striking given lack of low skilled workers in several areas of the labour market and struggle with recruiting)
Second, top 5 countries of origin of asylum applicants in the UK are different from elsewhere in Europe (main countries of asylum), this is mostly due to family, historical and geopolitical connections. So people in Calais are there because they want to come to the UK. Not every asylum seeker in Europe aspire to. In the EU, Syrians and Afghans are still by far the largest groups. According to the latest figures in the UK, main countries are: Iran, Eritrea, Albania, Sudan and Iraq.
Third, while asylum applications are relatively high in the UK, they are still below countries like Germany and France. Data from the previous quarter (we don’t have yet EU latest data), show that the UK has less applications than Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Greece in Q2 2021.
Forth, despite the summary to the statistics makes the point that now there are more asylum seekers than during the 2015-16 refugee crisis, the truth is the UK didn’t really experience the 2015-16 refugee crisis. so it doesn’t really make sense to compare with it – much higher levels were recorded in previous years.
Fifth, the number of UASC arriving in Q3 is much higher than previous years (including pre-pandemic). Family reunion routes via Dublin or Dabs scheme no longer works. There is no other viable option for young people and sea route is all it’s left to them. Despite tough talk on sending people back, the government knows that with unaccompanied minors this is not really feasible and they may be monitoring this figure closely.
Finally, refugee resettlement is important, and the UK government is investing on it, but it only covers a fraction of those in need of international protection (1171 people in the first nine months of 2021), over the same period there were over 37,562 asylum applications (main applicants only) – we should be very careful not to buy in the government narrative that the New Plan for Immigration and the Nationality and Border Bills provide ‘safe routes’, because this is only the case for a very selected few which are used to justify a draconian approach to the right to claim asylum of the many.