United Kingdom--Over 17,000 asylum seekers, whose claims have been discontinued, are currently unaccounted for, according to the UK Home Office. The admission came during discussions in Parliament regarding Chancellor Rishi Sunak's ambitious goal to eliminate the asylum backlog by year-end.
The Home Office clarified that the withdrawal of asylum applications is a result of claimants failing to respond to interview requests or questionnaires. Senior officials, appearing before the home affairs select committee, conceded uncertainty about the whereabouts of these individuals, with a senior civil servant stating, "I don't think we know where all these people are."
When questioned about the possibility of some returning to their home countries, the Home Office official, Simon Ridley, admitted to lacking information on such cases. Notably, 17,316 applications have been withdrawn since December last year due to claimants' non-responsiveness.
In 2021 alone, 2,141 applications were either refused or withdrawn, marking a significant increase from the 24,403 refusals or withdrawals recorded in 2004. Importantly, the withdrawal of an application signifies that it is no longer under consideration, leaving the claimant in the UK illegally, subject to potential removal.
Figures published last week put the number of cases in the so-called "legacy backlog" at 39,668 as of the end of September. This relates to asylum claims made before June 2022.
The Home Office's most senior civil servant, Sir Matthew Rycroft, said the government had always been confident it would reach the target set by the prime minister, and had hired more case workers to assess claims.
Officials are under pressure to reduce the backlog as the government continues with plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Sir Matthew told MPs that officials were in the capital Kigali to put "finishing touches" to the talks after the Supreme Court ruled the plan was unlawful.
The court said there was a risk asylum seekers sent there could be returned to their home country, which would break UK and international human rights laws.