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Asylum system ‘under severe pressure’ – MPs

The UK asylum system is “overburdened”, the Home Affairs select committee has warned in a highly critical report. ‘Appalling’ housing conditions, lengthy delays and failings in decision-making must be addressed, the MPs urged. 

The Home Office said the UK granted asylum to “those who need it”. 

The report highlights a backlog of 32,600 cases that should have been resolved in 2011, and the number of applicants waiting for a decision after six months rose by 63% last year. Some had been waiting for up to 16 years. 

Discrimination was also an issue, with lesbian and gay applicants asked for anecdotal evidence and to “prove that they are gay”. The level of housing supplied for asylum applicants was labelled “sub-standard”. 

The report said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had identified a number of failings in the quality of the UK’s asylum decision-making. This included failures to apply the right methodology when assessing applicants’ credibility. 

Committee chairman Keith Vaz said: “The asylum system is overburdened and under severe pressure. The backlog of asylum cases that should have been cleared by 2011 has reached 32,600, with some people waiting up to 16 years for a decision. The system needs to work, otherwise applicants are trapped in a cycle of helplessness and vulnerability.” 

He added that the companies responsible for providing temporary housing for applicants “must be held accountable and deliver a satisfactory level of service. It is unacceptable that in 21st century Britain thousands of people are forced into destitution due to the inefficiencies of the system.” 

The chief executive of the Refugee Council, Maurice Wren, said: “The findings of this report reflect the grave concerns about the asylum system in the UK that we and many others have been highlighting for years. 

“Failing to treat asylum seekers with dignity and, simultaneously, failing to deal effectively and fairly with their claims has created an expensive and counter-productive bureaucratic nightmare that all too often denies vulnerable people the protection from persecution and oppression they desperately need. 

“In particular, the Government should be ashamed that it has to be told by a parliamentary committee to stop forcing pregnant women to move around the country for bureaucratic convenience.” 

But a Home Office spokesman said: “The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need it. We are committed to concluding all cases as quickly as possible, but asylum cases are often complex and require full and thorough consideration. 

“We have robust mechanisms in place to monitor standards of housing provided to asylum seekers. 

“Following the awarding of Compass contracts, the Home Office and its providers carried out an inspection of accommodation standards and where necessary took action to ensure they met the necessary standards. 

“Overall the performance of all three providers has shown steady improvement since January and G4S and Serco have made significant investment in their property portfolio. We will continue to monitor performance to ensure that standards are met.” 

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