The UK Home Office is to fast-track the asylum applications of more than 20,000 people from Iraq and Iran in an effort to fulfill a pledge by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to clear a substantial backlog of more than 90,000 claims.
A leaked document, seen by The Guardian, suggests asylum-seekers from the two countries will be asked to complete detailed questionnaires, in English, and return them within 30 days, before appearing for short, in-person interviews with officials. Failure to comply could result in an application being turned down.
The UK had a backlog of 92,601 asylum applications at the end of June 2022. At the end of the year, 20,607 Iraqi and Iranian cases from this backlog remained outstanding, out of 132,000 applications in total. For Iranian applicants, the approval rate is about 80 percent, while 54 percent of Iraqi claims are accepted.
The Home Office described the move as “a new phase in the program to clear the legacy (application) backlog” by grouping applicants into “cohorts.”
It added: “As part of this approach, the first cohorts we will prioritize are legacy claimants from Iran and Iraq, as these are the two highest nationality cohorts of outstanding claims.
“Iranian and Iraqi legacy claimants who have not yet been substantively interviewed will begin receiving questionnaires, which will be tailored to their circumstances, over the next few weeks, helping to reduce the duration of any subsequent interviews.
“Once the necessary information is received, we anticipate that targeted or shorter interviews will be approximately 30 minutes to two hours in length.”
During a similar scheme launched in February, 12,000 asylum-seekers from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Syria, Yemen and Libya were asked to complete 11-page questionnaires. However, officials said that many of the forms were incorrectly filed, which necessitated lengthy follow-up interviews. A report in The Times newspaper put the number of correctly filed forms as low as 10 percent.
Immigration lawyer Colin Yeo told The Guardian: “It looks like good news but premature if they haven’t sorted out the easy cases already.
“It is not clear how this is going to help with more complex cases. Most asylum interviews are about two to three hours anyway, so there’s not much of a time saving if they’re at the upper end of their time estimate.”
Sile Reynolds, the head of advocacy at campaign group Freedom From Torture, said: “We remain concerned that rolling out this policy without further safeguards, including access to legal representation, an interpreter or a full face-to-face interview, could result in survivors of torture being refused protection and returned to their home countries to face persecution.”
The Home Office said: “We need to make sure asylum-seekers do not spend months or years living in the UK, at vast expense to the taxpayer, waiting for a decision. This questionnaire will help us clear the backlog of historic asylum cases by speeding up decisions and allowing case workers to carry out shorter, more focused interviews.
“Individuals who receive one, like all asylum-seekers, are subject to mandatory security checks against their claimed identity, including immigration and criminality checks on UK databases, which is critical to the delivery of a safe and secure immigration system.”