Rishi Sunak Commits To Abolishing Asylum Claims Backlog In Major Immigration Plan
Rishi Sunak delivered a statement in the Commons on Tuesday (Alamy)
The Prime Minister has set out his plan to tackle small boat crossings in the Channel including abolishing the asylum claims backlog and speeding up the return of Albanian migrants.
Setting out his approach in the Commons on Tuesday, Rishi Sunak said that the current global asylum framework had become “obsolete” and that his plan would “break the stranglehold of criminal gangs”.
He warned that “unless we act decisively now, this will only get worse” as he set out the five steps his government would take to tackle the issue.
Labour said that many of the measures were “gimmicks”, and that many had been unsuccessfully tried by the government before.
In a bid to reduce the backlog of asylum cases – which hit 117,400 in November – Sunak pledged to double the number of asylum case workers and “radically reengineer” the process to include clearer guidance and less paperwork.
“As a result of all of these changes we will triple the productivity of our caseworkers, and we expect to abolish the backlog of initial asylum decisions by the end of next year,” he told MPs.
Sunak also announced a new agreement with Albania, which he claimed would see the majority of asylum seekers arriving from the country having their applications rejected.
He said Albania was a “safe, prosperous European country” but still accounted for a third of the people arriving via small boats from the Channel, and added that the country’s prime minister had said “there is no reason why we cannot return Albanian asylum seekers immediately”.
To tackle this, Sunak announced that Border Force officers would be placed at Tirana Airport in the country’s capital for the first time in a bid to “disrupt organised crime and stop people coming here illegally”.
New guidance would additionally be issued to caseworkers to make it “crystal clear” that Albania is a safe country, and the threshold for modern slavery would be raised to prevent Albanians from “unfairly” exploiting the system.
Other measures announced by Sunak include a new “small boats operational command” bringing together “our military, our civilian capabilities, and the National Crime Agency”.
The new initiative would help remedy the “fragmented” policing of the Channel, and would utilise “all available technology” to help authorities “prosecute more gang-led boat pilots”.
Sunak claimed these extra resources would allow immigration officers to focus more on enforcement, resulting in a 50 per cent increase in operations.
He went on to set out the government’s new approach to housing migrants, claiming it was “unfair and appalling that we are spending £5.5m every day on using hotels to house asylum seekers”.
“We must end this so we will shortly bring forward a range of alternative sites such as disused holiday parks, former student halls and surplus military sites,” Sunak said.
“We have already identified locations that could accommodate 10,000 people and we're in active discussions to secure them and many more.”
Responding to the announcement, Labour leader Keir Starmer said similar measures had been used before to “distract from a broken asylum system”.
He also urged the government to do more to tackle criminal gangs who were driving the crossings, and called for a specialist unit to be set up in the National Crime Agency to address this.
“We need leadership at home and abroad. We need a home office that functions effectively. And we need to defeat the criminal gangs operating on the coasts. But time and time again, this government has not provided serious solutions,” he said.
“The Prime Minister sat around the Cabinet table the whole time. Where there should have been solutions, we've had unworkable gimmicks.”
“As I listened to that statement, all of that has been said almost word for word before.”
He claimed that the Nationality and Borders Act had only increased delays to the asylum system, and called the current setup “slow track, not fast track”.
“How can he have any credibility to say new legislation is going to be the answer. The unworkable gimmicks go on. So do the crossings. We need to bring this to an end.”
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe