24 November 2022

The British Red Cross warns about the devastating human toll of the UK's asylum backlog

Press contact:

  • For further information, contact Heba Yousef: Hyousef@redcross.org.uk
  • Contact number: 0207 877 7557 / 07711008782


People are suffering with poor mental and physical health often in unsuitable accommodation for years because of the asylum backlog, the UK’s leading refugee support charity has warned.

New statistics reveal the backlog in asylum cases has increased 74 per cent in the last year – with nearly 150,000 men, women and children forced to live in limbo – two thirds of those are waiting for longer than six months

The British Red Cross has compiled a snapshot to help illustrate the conditions people seeking asylum have to live with and the significant toll it takes on them.

Through its refugee services, the British Red Cross sees people living in unfit conditions. These include:

  • long stays in unfit hotel accommodation;
  • dirty and unhygienic kitchens; and
  • people who had to live in the same clothes for weeks on end.

One family has not had a decision on their asylum case for three years and are struggling to look after a disabled son without public support. Another family with complex needs has been put in a first floor flat, even though a member of the family is disabled.

The British Red Cross has also heard from individuals about the impact this has on their mental health, with some people even suffering suicidal thoughts.

Jon Featonby, policy and advocacy manager for the British Red Cross said:

“The backlog in asylum decisions is increasing at an alarming rate. This means more men, women and children are waiting for years for a response to their asylum claim.

“The longer people wait for an asylum decision the longer they are living in unsuitable accommodation without certainty – no work, no permanent place to live and no way to start the process of reuniting with family members. This is having a devastating impact on people’s mental and physical health.

“The people that we support here in the UK have already experienced unimaginable suffering. They have been forced to flee their homes and they need stability, security and to feel safe.

“Urgent steps are needed to address the backlog in asylum decisions, so people are not forced to live in limbo. This should include putting in place faster processes for applications made by people from countries with high overall grant rates, such as from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Eritrea and Sudan, who make up more than a third of the people currently waiting for a decision on their claim.”

The British Red Cross is calling for the government to take urgent action to tackle the backlog in asylum decisions. Recommendations include:

  • accelerate straightforward asylum applications made by people from countries with high overall grant rates, such as from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Eritrea and Sudan;
  • prioritise cases that have been waiting the longest for an initial decision, starting with those more than two years old;
  • ensure recent and upcoming reforms to the asylum process created the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 do not add unnecessarily delays in decision making;
  • provide regular and accessible updates to people waiting on the progress of their asylum claim; and
  • set a target for reducing the asylum backlog, which is updated regularly and supported by better training of caseworkers, a simplified process and prioritisation.

- ENDS -

Notes to editors

At the end of September 2022 there were nearly 150,000 people waiting for an initial decision on their asylum claim with 117,400 cases pending.

Of those 117,400 cases, 39,408 had been made by people from one of five countries, nationals of whom all had grant rates at initial decision of 82% or above in the year to September 2022:

  • Iran – 14,713 applications waiting for an initial decision, 82% grant rate;
  • Eritrea – 6,331 applications, 98% grant rate;
  • Afghanistan – 8,023 applications, 98% grant rate;
  • Syria – 5,611 applications, 98% grant rate; and
  • Sudan – 4,730 applications, 92% grant rate.

Home Office statistics are available here:  https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/immigration-statistics-data-tables-year-ending-september-2022 .