Asylum claims in the UK have hit their highest level for nearly 20 years, fuelled by soaring Channel migrant crossings and a rise in numbers following the coronavirus pandemic.
The backlog of cases waiting to be dealt with is also at a record high, according to new figures from the Home Office.
A total of 37,562 applications were made in the year to September, more than in any 12-month period since the year to June 2004 (39,746) and higher than the numbers seen at the peak of the European migration crisis in 2015 and 2016 (36,546).
The latest figure is up 18 per cent on the year to September 2020 (31,966), although this will have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic amid restrictions on movement. There were 35,737 applications for the same period in 2019.
The Home Office said: “The increase in applications is likely linked in part, to the easing of global travel restrictions that were in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and to an increase in small boat arrivals to the UK (of which almost all claim asylum).”
Applications had fallen “substantially” during the initial coronavirus outbreak, but have since increased and are now higher than levels seen before the pandemic.
Covid-19 had a “significant impact on the UK immigration system” both on restricting migrant movements to and from the UK but also on “operational capacity”, the department added.
Channel crossings ‘push up asylum applications’
The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said the sharp increase in Channel crossings was a “key factor in pushing up the number of asylum applications in the third quarter of 2021”.
There were 15,104 asylum applications in July to September 2021: up 74 per cent on the same period in 2020 (8,657), and the highest quarterly total since January to March 2003 (15,856).
The record for quarterly applications is 22,760 in October to December 2002, at a time when a rise in claims was “partly driven by military action, conflict or political unrest in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Somalia”.
More than 25,700 people have made the dangerous journey across the English Channel to the UK in small boats this year. The figure is three times the total for the whole of 2020, according to data compiled by the PA news agency.