12,000 UK asylum seekers could get refugee status without face-to-face interviews

LONDON: Around 12,000 asylum seekers to the UK will be considered for refugee status without the need for face-to-face interviews, the BBC reported on Thursday.

Nationals from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Libya, Syria, and Yemen who applied before July must fill out a 10-page questionnaire, which will be used by the Home Office to decide on their cases.

The 40 questions must be completed in English and returned within 20 working days, or the Home Office may consider the asylum application has been withdrawn. The form suggests using “online translation tools” if necessary.

UK government officials told the BBC that the usual security and criminal checks would still stand.

The new scheme aims to reduce the asylum backlog, which Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has promised to end in 2023.

The Home Office told the BBC the move was not an asylum amnesty but would simplify the process for five nationalities which have already had 95 percent of claims accepted.

However, the British Red Cross has warned that the 20-day limit could have “devastating” consequences for asylum seekers.

Christina Marriott, executive director of strategy and communications at the British Red Cross, told The Guardian: “These men, women, and children may not speak English and are likely traumatized from fleeing persecution and war.

“They need our support and compassion, not rushed and complicated bureaucracy that will only increase suffering.

“We know from experience that government communications with people seeking asylum often falls short – translations are rarely provided, and forms are lost in transit. This time limit could have devastating impacts on people who need protection,” she added.

Sile Reynolds, head of asylum advocacy at Freedom from Torture, told The Guardian: “Plans for an asylum claim questionnaire – requiring people to complete a complex form, often without any legal advice, in a language they don’t understand and to a 20-day deadline – could see many asylum claims wrongly withdrawn, leaving those individuals at risk of return to torture or persecution.”

Marriott also expressed “deep concern” about the suggestion that applications be withdrawn if refugees did not complete the document on time.

However, Home Office officials told the BBC that if no response was received, a follow-up notification would be sent, and each application would be considered on its own merits.

The number of asylum seekers in the UK awaiting a decision on their case has reached a new high of approximately 166,000 people.

In 2022, the number of asylum claims in the UK was almost 75,000, the highest in nearly two decades. More than three-quarters of decisions made were in favor of granting asylum, the highest number in three decades.

According to a recent Migration Observatory analysis, the recent increase in applications was only one factor contributing to the current backlog, claiming that slow decision-making had allowed the backlog to accumulate over several years.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees welcomed the new scheme and said the agency would work with the Home Office to facilitate its implementation, The Guardian reported.