Rishi Sunak faces renewed pressure on immigration after a new fast-track scheme for 12,000 asylum seekers – including Channel migrants – was dubbed an ‘amnesty in all but name’.
In a bid to begin clearing the massive asylum backlog, the Home Office will launch a streamlined system which will see migrants granted refugee status on the basis of a 10-page questionnaire.
The plan was immediately attacked by critics as the Prime Minister faced demands from his own backbenches to urgently tackle the Channel crisis.
More than 95 per cent of the 12,000 claims are expected to be granted, based on current rates, allowing them to settle permanently in Britain and sponsor relatives to join them here.
Officials said the ‘vast majority’ of cases will go ahead without an asylum interview – a detailed, one-to-one session with a Home Office caseworker which is designed to show up discrepancies in an applicant’s claim.
Rishi Sunak faced renewed pressure on immigration after a new fast-track scheme for 12,000 asylum seekers
The new fast-track scheme will be applied to Libyans, Syrians, Afghans, Eritreans and Yemenis who arrived in Britain before June 28 last year, including those who arrived by small boat across the Channel.
Officials were unable to say how many Channel migrants are in the pool.
It is believed to be the first scheme of its kind in the UK, although a similar backlog-clearing exercise designed to fast-track historic asylum cases was set up by the former Labour government in 2006 and ran until 2011.
Applicants will still undergo security and crime checks under the new programme, officials said.
However, there have been a number of cases of asylum seekers from the five countries covered by the scheme who have committed serious crimes in the UK.
They include Afghan asylum seeker Lawangeen Abdulrahimzai, who stabbed aspiring Royal Marine Tom Roberts to death in a row over an e-scooter in Bournemouth last year.
Abdulrahimzai posed as a 14-year-old boy to gain entry into the UK in 2019, but in reality he was a 19-year-old man wanted by Serbian police for gunning down two people with a Kalashnikov assault rifle.
Last month he was jailed for life with a minimum term of 29 years for Mr Roberts’ murder.
The new fast-track scheme will be applied to Libyans, Syrians, Afghans, Eritreans and Yemenis who arrived in Britain before June 28 last year, including those who arrived by small boat across the Channel
In December Mr Sunak committed to clearing 92,000 asylum backlog cases – from an overall pile of just under 149,000 – by the end of this year.
Tomorrow’s announcement is the first stage of what is expected to be a widespread streamlining of the asylum system to work through the remaining 80,000 cases in the PM’s pledge.
But one senior source said: ‘This is an asylum amnesty in all but name. One major issue here is that it will encourage people from these nationalities who are not yet in the UK to come here and attempt to get asylum.
‘It will also push up immigration figures because once these 12,000 have been granted refugee status they’ll be able to bring relatives here through the family reunion scheme.’
Another well-placed source suggested that dropping interviews with asylum seekers indicated the Home Office was prepared to ‘take a bit of a risk in order to get the backlog down’.
Officials denied the scheme amounted to an amnesty because it will not give ‘blanket’ refugee status by nationality. They insisted each case will be considered ‘on its own merits’.
The Home Office source added: ‘The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary are clear that we need to clear the backlog in order to be able to detain people and swiftly remove them when we have the new legislation.’
There have been a number of cases of asylum seekers from the five countries covered by the scheme who have committed serious crimes in the UK. They include Afghan asylum seeker Lawangeen Abdulrahimzai (pictured), who stabbed aspiring Royal Marine Tom Roberts to death
Most of the 12,000 asylum seekers are believed to be living in ‘dispersed accommodation’, such as self-catering properties, but the Home Office was unable to rule out whether some are in taxpayer-funded hotels.
The questionnaire which will be sent to eligible asylum seekers is 10 pages long and contains about 40 questions.
It asks them to set out why they believe themselves to be at risk in their home country.
Applicants will have 20 working days to complete the form and return it to the Home Office.
Some applicants eligible for the fast-track scheme will already have been in the backlog for years.
It is unclear what steps the Home Office will take to check the 12,000 asylum seekers have been truthful about their nationality.
Tonight a leaked letter from the Home Office’s director of asylum, protection and enforcement, Dan Hobbs, revealed the new system could be rolled out more widely.
He said it could be extended to asylum claims lodged since June 28 last year ‘in due course’.
Asylum-seekers living in a Merseyside hotel were targeted by protesters earlier this month
In addition, Mr Hobbs also disclosed that asylum interviews may be dropped for other nationalities of asylum seeker ‘where appropriate’.
The new asylum questionnaire could in future be sent to out more widely ‘to gather additional information from other claimants awaiting an asylum decision in due course’, he went on.
The letter, addressed to Home Office ‘stakeholders’, also confirmed that failure to return the questionnaire could ‘result in an individual’s asylum claim being withdrawn’.
Alp Mehmet, chairman of Migration Watch UK, which campaigns for tougher border controls, said the plan was ‘dangerous folly’ and suggested it could encourage more asylum seekers to claim they are from the five eligible countries.
‘This is an amnesty in all but name,’ he said. ‘The message to the criminal gangs is, if you get your clients to destroy their ID and claim to be from a ‘high success’ country, they’ll be tick-boxed into the UK.
‘The triple killer of Tom Roberts came from such a country, and had been denied asylum in Norway before our already-lax system allowed him to con his way in.
‘The Government’s plan is dangerous folly. The Home Secretary should think again.’
Enver Solomon, head of the Refugee Council, welcomed the Home Office’s announcement as a ‘welcome first step’.
But he added: ‘After living in worry and uncertainty for months and even years without hearing anything about their claims, it cannot then be fair or reasonable to expect people to complete a lengthy form only in English in a matter of weeks especially for those who don’t have access to legal advice and don’t speak English.
‘As it stands, the Prime Minister will fail to meet his commitment to clear the backlog by the end of this year and if he is serious about it there must be a more ambitious, workable, person-centred approach that sees the face behind the case.’