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UK: Asylum Claims Continue to Drop as New Home Office Failings Emerge

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Asylum applications have dropped by a forth within a year, newly published immigration statistics reveal. Meanwhile the backlog in asylum cases increased to a record high, leaving thousands of asylum seekers in limbo. A High Court ruling established that the Home Office discriminated against two trafficking victims by denying them financial support to cover child care during appointments related to their experienced abuse. After public health concerns were raised, the Home Office abandoned its plan to evict thousands of rejected asylum seekers from its accommodation scheme but will reconsider the policy within the next weeks. Meanwhile asylum seekers across the country are unable to access their funds as the Home Office changed the contractor of provided debit cards, putting vulnerable people at risk of destitution.

The government has published its immigration statistics for the year March 2020 to March 2021. Within the 12-month reporting period, asylum applications in the UK fell to 26,903, which is a 24 % decrease compared to the previous year. With this modest number, the UK ranks number 17 in Europe as regards asylum applications per capita while on a global scale, forced displacement has grown. In 2020, the number of forcibly displaced people exceeded 80 million -- more than the UK's population. The actual development in the number of asylum applications in the UK clearly contradicts the government's rhetoric, with Home Secretary Priti Patel stating the UK asylum system was "collapsing under the pressure of parallel illegal routes to asylum, facilitated by criminal smugglers." While the government pursues a further reduction of asylum applications with its New Plan for Immigration, the asylum system itself continues to malfunction even with reduced arrivals. The backlog in asylum cases further increased to a new record high. At the end of March 2021, 66,185 people were waiting for an outcome on their initial asylum claim. Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, responded to the newly published statistics saying: "We remain deeply concerned by the record high numbers of people waiting in limbo on news of their fate, unable to begin new lives. This could easily be resolved through additional resourcing and more effective decision making, however, we fear it is only set to worsen as the new rules continue to have an impact on asylum cases."

On 24 May, the High Court ruled that the Home Office's system of support discriminated against two asylum-seeking mothers who are victims of trafficking, stating that their treatment was "egregious". The two claimants, who now hold refugee status in the UK, were denied support by the Home Office which left them unable to pay for childcare while attending legal, medical and counselling appointments. The judge acknowledged that it was "clearly inappropriate" for children of victims of trafficking to join their parents in such appointments and that the lack of support made it difficult to attend them. Due to the lack of support, the claimants' children had to hear details about their mothers' abuse who suffered sexual exploitation. A lawyer representing one of the claimants stressed it was "not possible or safe to conduct an effective psychological assessment with a child present", and that "children are negatively affected when they accompany their parents to interviews where their parents' trafficking is discussed". A Home Office spokesperson said the judgement and next steps would be carefully considered.

A joint investigation by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS), the College of Policing and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) concludes that there are grave shortcomings in the treatment of modern slavery survivors by police. Because victims of modern slavery are criminalised rather than recognised as victims, successful prosecution of traffickers is hampered and vulnerable people are left at risk.

The Home Office has abandoned its plan to evict refused asylum seekers from provided accommodation, the Guardian reports. The political U-turn affects about 4,000 people and comes after public health concerns were raised by Public Health England (PHE). However, the eviction policy will be reconsidered once step 4 in the pandemic roadmap is reached, which could be in three weeks' time.

Meanwhile, the local charity Positive Action warns of the impoverishment of asylum seekers in Glasgow and elsewhere across the UK as they are left without funds after the Home Office switched the provider of their Aspen Card, a debit card given to asylum seekers to receive financial support. After the card provider was switched, several hundred people contacted the charity as they were unable to access their funds. "There is a tsunami of suffering coming to these families because of this shambolic change," Robina Qureshi, executive director of Positive Action told the Glasgow Times. "This potentially affects thousands of the most vulnerable people in society who, unlike you or I, have no savings or reserves to rely on." To address the situation, Positive Action has begun to distribute emergency crisis grants, food vouchers, and groceries.

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