The number of asylum applications received by the UK government between April and June nearly halved compared with the first three months of the year, fresh figures show, as the Covid-19 pandemic limited migration flows across the world.
There were 4,850 asylum applications made in the second quarter of the year, significantly down on the 8,455 received from January to March, Home Office statistics reveal.
The figures come at a time of heightened anxiety over a significant increase in migrants arriving in the UK on small boats across the Channel.
While high compared with historical averages, the number of migrants arriving in small boats between April and June – 1,960 to 1,980, according to analysis by PA Media – is significantly lower than the near 4,000 fall in asylum applications in the same period.
More than 5,000 people have arrived in the UK on small boats across the strait of Dover so far this year, more than double the total for the whole of 2019.
The drop in asylum applications and rise in Channel crossings can in part be explained by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which restricted movement across the world.
Humanitarian experts have told the UK government it needs to offer safe and legal routes to the UK for asylum seekers or migrants will continue to attempt the Channel crossings.
One such safe and legal route, the UK’s flagship resettlement scheme – under which recognised refugees are transferred from an asylum country to the UK with the aim of permanent settlement – was suspended in March because of the pandemic. The figures released on Thursday show there have been no arrivals under the scheme since.
Stephen Hale, the chief executive of Refugee Action, challenged the ongoing suspension of the scheme, which aims to resettle 5,000 refugees in the UK a year.
“While pausing the programme earlier this year was understandable due to the pandemic, there is no earthly reason why it can’t be restarted now,” he said.
“It is baffling that the UK government has arranged travel corridors for summer holidays on the one hand but prevented resettlement flights taking place on the other. Flights that would offer a literal lifeline to some of the most vulnerable refugees in the world.
“The recent increase in Channel crossings highlights the urgent need for safe and legal routes to accessing protection in the UK. Yet nobody is making a safe or legal journey through refugee resettlement. The government must get the programme up and running as a matter of urgency.”
The Home Office has published for the first time a breakdown of the number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children transferred to the UK under the “Dubs amendment”, named after Lord Dubs, who campaigned for the change in legislation. The amendment required the Home Office to accept an unspecified number of unaccompanied child refugees from Europe for resettlement in the UK. The process was subsequently referred to as the Dubs scheme. The government capped the scheme at 480 children, although there was no legal requirement to do this.
The UK government has said it has reached the self-imposed cap of 480, but the figures released on Thursday show 63 of those children are still awaiting decisions on their immigration status. A breakdown of nationality shows half of the children come from Eritrea and Afghanistan (141 and 105 respectively).
The Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, has condemned a Home Office video that criticises “activist lawyers” who “delay and disrupt” the return of “migrants who have no right to remain in the UK”.
Small boat crossings are totally unnecessary and we continue to return migrants with no right to be in the UK.— Home Office (@ukhomeoffice) August 26, 2020
Another flight left today with more planned in the coming weeks. pic.twitter.com/RCnLlqNGVM
Simon Davis, the organisation’s president, said: “Attacks on the integrity of the legal profession undermine the rule of law. Solicitors advise their clients on their rights under the laws created by parliament. To describe lawyers who are upholding the law as ‘activist lawyers’ is misleading and dangerous.
In a separate statistical release, the Home Office revealed the number of passengers arriving in the UK by air increased sixfold month-on-month in July as lockdown was eased and travel corridors were introduced between different countries.
There were 1.2m arrivals by air in July, compared with fewer than 200,000 in June, the statistics show.
However, the total number of arrivals in July was still 89% down on the same month in 2019, when 11.1 million people arrived in the UK by air.
From 8 June, all arrivals in the UK were required to self-isolate for 14 days but this was significantly relaxed on 10 July with the introduction of travel corridors, which allowed quarantine-free travel between designated nations. Since then mandatory quarantine has been reimposed on travellers returning from a number of popular holiday destinations including Spain, France and Croatia.