Leaked documents show new government plans to reduce the asylum backlog by emailing questionnaires to refugees instead of performing formal interviews. The forms would require applicants to respond in English within 20 working days, or face rejection. Rishi Sunak’s strategy is set to reduce the “legacy backlog”, targeting 12,000 persons from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Libya, Syria, and Yemen.
In December, Rishi Sunak pledged to “stop the boats” from crossing the English Channel and that he would do so by the end of 2023. The Home Office has around 10 months to process the 92,601 asylum requests in the system as of the end of June 2022.
The questionnaire, which the Guardian viewed, has more than 50 complex questions that must be completed in English, according to the instructions, and if required, proposes utilising online translation tools.
The British Red Cross’ executive director of strategy and communications, Christina Marriott, expressed the organisation’s worry of the idea that applications would be withdrawn if refugees were unable to complete the form by the deadline.
‘We know from experience that government communications with asylum seekers often falls short – translations are rarely provided, and forms are lost in transit. This time limit could have devastating impacts on people who need protection,’ Ms Marriott added.
Immigration lawyer and author Collin Yeo said that given the reductions in legal aid and the strains on the profession, applicants would not be able to get specialised assistance within the 20-day timeframe; ‘because of the backlog, there is no way that there are enough lawyers to meet the demand in such a short time,’ he commented.
One of the question reads as: ‘If you do fear officials in your country, is it possible to email or telephone family members or friends in your country of origin to request [identity documents] without placing yourself or them at risk?’
Asylum applicants are also questioned about whether they entered the UK via a third country and whether their home country has a history of persecution or discrimination.