Deportations from UK at record low as asylum applications soar

The number of people being deported from the UK is at a record low while asylum applications have soared over the last year, according to Home Office data.

Government statistics, which have measured irregular migration for the first time, also confirmed that 28,526 people arrived on small boats in 2021 – slightly higher than previous reports and a huge jump from the 8,466 who came in 2020.

Critics have claimed that the statistics undermine Priti Patel’s claims that the government is getting a grip on the UK’s immigration and asylum system.

Figures released on Thursday show that just 2,380 people were forcibly returned to another country in the year to September 2021, a 35% yearly drop and the lowest number on record. In 2004 the Home Office deported 21,425 people.

They also showed that just 11 people had been deported since the asylum application rules were strengthened last year after Brexit to allow asylum claimants to be removed if they arrived from another “safe country”.

Only 64 individuals were served with inadmissibility decisions, meaning the UK would not admit the asylum claim for consideration in the UK system, because another country was considered to be responsible for the claim.

Meanwhile, there were 48,540 asylum applications in the UK in 2021, 63% more than the previous year. This is also higher than at the peak of the European migration crisis in 2015-16, when there were 36,546 applications, and the highest number of applications since 2003.

Seven in 10 of the 14,734 initial decisions on applications led to asylum being granted last year – the highest rate since 1990. That figure appears to challenge Patel’s claim before parliament that most people who travel to the UK in small boats are not genuine asylum seekers.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “It comes as no surprise that today’s Home Office statistics show that the UK, along with our European neighbours, has seen an increase in asylum applications in 2021. Where there is war, conflict and violence – there will be people desperately seeking safety.”

“It is important to recognise that that seven out of 10 men, women and children arriving in the UK are found to be fleeing bloodshed and persecution, the likes of which is unfolding in Ukraine, and so are granted protection.”

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, said the figures challenged Patel’s policies. “It’s been chilling to see ministers coldly blaming desperate people simply for trying to reach safety … Instead of plans to criminalise people for seeking safety, the government should be opening up safer routes for those seeking asylum – not raising the drawbridge and driving vulnerable people further into the hands of people smugglers.”

Stuart C McDonald, the SNP’s home affairs spokesperson, said the statistics exposed the cruelty and the failings of the government’s current policies. “The Home Office under Priti Patel is making policy that bears no resemblance to human decency, human rights or the reality of the situation it faces.

“The admissibility rules which are about to be enshrined in the borders bill are an example of such cruel policies and ride roughshod over the refugee convention just at a point in time when we need it more than ever.

“Any Ukrainian who seeks protection beyond Poland will be deemed a queue skipper and subject to criminalisation and marginalisation,” he said.

The Home Office-published statistics showed that 36,792 people were found to have entered the UK by irregular routes last year. This means that about 8,000 people are expected to have entered the UK by means other than by small boats, such as in the back of lorries or shipping containers.

According to the report, last year’s figure of people crossing in small boats compares with 8,466 people crossing in 2020, 1,843 in 2019 and 299 in 2018.

November 2021 saw the highest number of small boat arrivals in the last four years – 6,971 – and the number coming to the UK in each month of last year was higher than comparable periods in 2020.

The statistics also show that two-thirds of the UK’s seasonal worker visa holders issued in 2021 went to Ukrainian workers, raising questions about the potential impact of conflict in Ukraine on recruitment to British farms.

After Indian nationals, Ukrainians were the second most common nationality among people granted UK work visas in 2021, mostly as a result of the seasonal worker visa. Almost 20,000 seasonal worker visas were granted to Ukrainian nationals, 67% of the total.

Madeleine Sumption, the director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said: “Today’s data show how heavily UK farms have relied on Ukrainian workers in particular, raising the question whether this source of workers will be disrupted by unpredictable events in that region.”

Responding to the figures, the immigration minister, Kevin Foster, said: “This government is fixing our country’s approach to illegal entry to the UK and asylum by making the tough decisions to end the overt exploitation of our laws and UK taxpayers.

“We know there is no simple solution to this problem, but our New Plan for Immigration will deliver the fair but firm system the British people have repeatedly voted for.”