Immigration has been dominating news headlines in the UK, due to rising numbers of migrants arriving in Kent and reports of overcrowding and disease at a facility where asylum seekers are held.
The home secretary Suella Braverman has been under fire over conditions at Manston migrant processing centre, with claims that a “backlog” of asylum cases has left thousands of people detained for long periods.
Ferret Fact Service looked at the current situation with migration to the UK, and considered the evidence for what’s causing the situation at processing centres.
What is the current situation?
The recent controversy developed after conditions at Manston migrant processing centre were revealed in late October. The centre opened in early 2022 to assist in processing those who arrived after crossing the English Channel in small boats.
Migrants are only meant to stay at the centre for 24 hours until they have undergone some safety checks and then moved into the asylum system. The site’s capacity was meant to be 1,600 people.
Reports of overcrowding first emerged in July. On 24 October, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, David Neal, told MPs there were 2,800 migrants at the centre. On 31 October, Conservative MP Roger Gale said there were more than 4,000 at the site.
Numbers began to fall last week as people were moved out of the centre, and on 7 November, immigration minister Robert Jenrick told MPs that the number had been reduced to below 1,600.
Home secretary Suella Braverman has been criticised for her approach to the crisis, and was accused of failing to put in place measures to ease the overcrowding, which she denied.
Have small boat crossings increased?
Data on the number of people crossing the English channel in small boats is recorded daily, weekly, monthly and yearly, by the ministry of defence (MoD) and home office.
The daily and weekly statistics are less robust than the annual data, but give a picture of the numbers of people crossing the channel.
From January 2022 up until the end of October 2022 about 40,000 people had crossed the channel in small boats. This is the highest number recorded.
In 2021 the total was 28,526 people, and in 2020 there were 8,000.
About 94 per cent of those who arrive on small boats claim asylum in the UK.
There has been a reduction in irregular migration being detected through other methods, such as those travelling in lorries or shipping containers through ports. Those discovered to have entered the UK through a port reduced from 1,052 in 2018 to 147 in the first half of 2022.
Is this illegal immigration?
So-called ‘illegal’ immigration is actually quite ill-defined, and most government bodies and charities use the term irregular migration to describe those who come to the UK or stay in the UK without official prior permission.
There are four often-cited ways in which someone could be an irregular migrant.
- Coming to the UK through a recognised route then breaching the conditions of entry or stay, such as by overstaying a visa or doing work that is not permitted.
- Entering the UK via a non-recognised route or by using false documents
- Staying in the UK after all routes of asylum have been rejected and appeals exhausted
- Being born in the UK to an irregular migrant.
There is no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker, however. Under international law, refugees can apply for asylum in any country which is signed up to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which includes the UK. They do not have to travel to the UK via recognised official routes to do so.
It is possible for certain people seeking asylum to apply from outside the UK, through various schemes such as refugee resettlement programmes, family reunion visas, and some specific immigration routes for certain countries, such as the Ukraine visa sponsorship scheme and the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme.
However the majority of asylum applications come from people who cannot use these routes.
How big is the asylum ‘backlog’?
Of those who came to the UK via small boats between January 2018 and June 2022 and applied for asylum as main applicants, 82 per cent were still waiting for a decision as of June 2022.
Of those who had a decision, 49 per cent were granted asylum and 43 per cent were rejected as inadmissible.
Eight per cent were rejected because the claim was ‘clearly unfounded’ or they did not meet the requirements for refugee status.
The the number of overall application still awaiting a decision has increased significantly in recent years, from 29,016 in December 2018 to 103,083 in June 2022.
This is a much larger number of cases than the increase in small boat crossings.
As of June 2022, there were 72,597 people who had been waiting more than six months for their decision.
What happens to those waiting for asylum decisions?
People who come to the UK and claim asylum cannot work while they wait for their claim to be processed. If they are destitute, they are eligible for a £40.85 per week subsistence allowance or accommodation in hostels or designated hotels.
Some people are kept in detention centres, while their asylum status is settled.
There has been criticism from refugee charities about the quality of accommodation, facilities and food for those in the process.
Where are those entering the UK coming from?
Up to the end of June 2022, the largest number of people claiming asylum were from Iran, with 10,752 claims.
This was followed by Albania (7,267) and Iraq (6,824).
For those crossing into the UK on small boats across the channel, the highest number — 2,165 — were from Albania. Second highest was 2,066 from Afghanistan, and then 1,723 from Iran.
The number of Albanian people travelling across the channel in small boats has increased significantly since 2018 when just 16 were identified. The first half of 2022 saw more than double the amount of Albanian people crossing than in 2021.
However, in evidence given to the house of commons home affairs committee, Dan O’Mahoney, stated the number of Albanians crossing in small boats as of 24 October was 12,000.
How does the UK compare to Europe?
The UK had the fourth highest number of asylum applications in 2021 compared to the EU plus Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway (EU+). In that year its accepted 13,000 applications, which is the sixth highest in the EU+
However, if we adjust for population size, the UK is only the 18th highest, having granted asylum to two people per 10,000 population.
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