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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

IPPR: Asylum stats show 100,000 waiting for initial decision – triple that of four years ago

Think tank urges government to fix asylum system and prepare to welcome refugees fleeing crises in Ukraine and Afghanistan

New analysis by IPPR of the released quarterly migration figures for the year 2021 finds that:

  • The number of asylum cases awaiting an initial decision at the end of December 2021 was more than 80,000 – leaving more than 100,000 people in limbo, including dependants. This number has more than tripled in four years.
  • The number of small boat arrivals has increased significantly from 299 in 2018 to 28,526 in 2021, but there has meanwhile been a fall in other clandestine methods of entering the UK, including inadequately documented air arrivals and detection at UK ports.
  • The number of people resettled to the UK under the government’s resettlement schemes (as opposed to people admitted as refugees after spontaneous asylum applications) in 2021 was only 1,587, still significantly lower than in the 2016-2019 period, where annual resettlement figures amounted to over 5,000.

Marley Morris, IPPR associate director who leads the think tank’s work on migration, trade and communities, said: 

“These figures illustrate an asylum system struggling to cope as increasing numbers of applicants find themselves in limbo. Applications are taking much longer to process - with the majority taking more than six months according to the latest figures, far higher than the situation five years ago. At the same time, the UK government’s resettlement schemes appear lacklustre after the pause in 2020, despite Covid-19 restrictions now all being lifted.

“With the humanitarian crisis continuing to unfold in Afghanistan and Russia invading Ukraine this week, the UK has a duty to expand its efforts to welcome refugees fleeing war and persecution. This means it is critical that it has an asylum system that is fit for purpose. The government must set out plans for its humanitarian response to the war in Ukraine, ramp up its resettlement programmes, and invest in a fast and effective asylum process.

“The crisis in Ukraine aso sheds light on the shortcomings of the Nationality and Borders Bill. A fair asylum system means treating those that exercise their right to seek asylum with dignity. Yet the Bill diminishes the UK’s duty to provide those who seek asylum a fair hearing and will lead to further delays to an already struggling system.” 


Marley Morris and Amreen Qureshi are available for background briefing and interview  


  1. IPPR research published earlier this year highlighted that the government’s proposals on asylum in the Nationality and Borders Bill will potentially bar refugees from accessing benefits, adding further to the 1.3 million people living in the UK with no access to social security, and so at risk of falling into destitution.
  2. IPPR is the UK’s pre-eminent progressive think tank. With more than 40 staff in offices in London, Manchester, Cardiff and Edinburgh, IPPR is Britain’s only national think tank with a truly national presence.