New Statistics Point To Rising Asylum Fraud

New analysis of official statistics released by the Home Office points to increasing abuse of our asylum system by those who have broken the rules or by non-UK born criminals attempting to stave off deportation.

The proportion of people claiming asylum in detention rose from less than a third (32%) to almost half (47%) – 2017-19. Even though more than 90% of such applications are rejected, applicants are “almost always” released while their claim is processed, enabling them to potentially abscond. Not surprisingly, the number removed from the country has plummeted.

This suggests rising asylum abuse. Yet the open borders industry still try to deny it is happening (see our piece).

The Home Office analysis also suggests that rules designed to tackle modern slavery / human trafficking are being used more and more by those who have broken the rules (including by foreign national offenders – or FNOs). The number of referrals by detainees has shot up but over two in three claims are being rejected. Despite this the number of removals of those who attempted to use this pathway in 2019 was 31, less than half the 2017 total of 75.

Increasing abuse of these provisions was recently confirmed by the Home Office. On 20 March 2021, they pointed to an ‘alarming rise in people abusing our modern slavery system by posing as victims in order to prevent their removal and enable them stay in the country’ and outlined measures aimed at addressing this.

As Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland recently said: “The modern slavery laws are such an important, ground-breaking piece of legislation. It breaks my heart to think it might be potentially open to abuse by people just because they want to launch another argument to buy them more time.”

The Home Office analysis lists eight legal avenues through which a person can seek to remain in the UK or challenge the decision to remove or detain them:

1. Applying for asylum 
2. Applying for leave to remain on human rights or other rights-based grounds 
3. Fresh application for leave to remain on protection or human rights grounds following an earlier refused asylum or human rights claim (known as ‘further submissions’) 
4. Appealing against an immigration decision, such as a refusal for further leave to remain, an asylum decision, or a decision to deport 
5. Lodging a judicial review 
6. Being referred as a potential victim of modern slavery through the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) 
7. Being the subject of a medical report under Rule 35 of the Detention Centre Rules 2001, which can then lead to the consideration of ‘further submissions’ 
8. Being the subject of a medico-legal report (MLR) from a medical practitioner independent from the Home Office

The Home Office also listed one non-legal means of obstructing enforcement: ‘Being physically disruptive or not cooperating during the removal process, such that removal fails’. The statistics reveal that 5,000 people attempted to or succeeded in physically disrupting their removal from the country between 2017 and 2019.

Damningly for the Home Office, the statistics make clear that attempted removals of those who intentionally disrupted their return through physical force increasingly fail, with such removals plummeting from just over 1,000 in 2017 to 266 in 2019.

24,600 were released from detention in 2019, of whom 5,921 spent a period of detention following a criminal conviction and 11,367 people spent a period of time in detention after being stopped within the UK for breaking the immigration rules. Meanwhile, 7,316 were detained upon arrival in the UK, e.g. after attempting to illegally enter the country.

Less than a quarter (22%) of the 11,367 (detained within the UK cohort) were removed from the country – down from over a third (36%) in 2017. Of the 5,921 FNO cohort, 64% were returned (although there may have been subsequent voluntary returns).

The statistics make clear that a very substantial number of those in detention make use of the various legal avenues. (73% in 2019 – up from 63% in 2017 – for those detained for immigration offences and 24% for FNOs). The two most striking pieces of information relate to asylum and modern slavery:


The figures show that asylum applications are the most common issue raised by people detained following detention for immigration offences and that this is ‘almost always’ followed by release (in 97% of cases).

The proportion of immigration offenders claiming asylum in detention has risen from 32% to 47% in the last two years. Despite this, 91% of such applications (those made in 2017) have been rejected.

Once someone claims asylum, they are likely to be released from detention and decreasingly likely to be removed from the UK even if their claim fails (as it usually did with those claiming from detention).

Those claiming asylum may also be given tax-payer funded housing and payments – if they are deemed to be ‘destitute’ – while their claim is assessed and, even if the claim is rejected, may still continue to be housed at public expense (see our brief).

It seems that claims for asylum are being made simply to secure release from detention and also to obstruct enforcement and removal efforts.

Meanwhile, the number of those who claimed asylum who were subsequently returned has dropped from 775 (15% of cases) in 2017 to 175 (3% of cases) in 2019.

Similarly, around 300-400 FNOs make asylum claims per year in detention (which likely subsequently led to release) and 97% were rejected at initial decision in 2017).

There has also been a drop in removals of FNOs where that person made an asylum claim, from 24% in 2017 to 16% in 2019. This means that just 52 people out of 335 FNOs who claimed asylum were removed in 2019.

Use of Modern Slavery Act provisions

What is also striking is the increase being made of the Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking laws by those who are detained (for more background on this issue, see this brief).

The figures reveal a huge increase in the number of immigration offenders referred under the Modern Slavery Act. The number of those alleged to be potential victims of modern slavery more than tripled, increasing from 501 (3 per cent) in 2017 to 1,767 (16 per cent) in 2019. [The number of such claims by FNOs doubled from 89 in 2017 to 182 in 2019].

What is also evident is that when people make such claims they are decreasingly likely to be removed (the number of such cases which subsequently resulted in return was more than cut in half from 75 to 31 between 2017 and 2019).

Other interesting points

Although there are now less than a 1,000 people in detention at any one time, the figures also reveal that 78,500 people were released from a period of immigration detention during the period 2017-19.

A total of 16,200 asylum claims were made by those who spent a period in immigration detention between 2017 and 2019. 5,600 such claims were made in 2019 (an increase of 200 on 2017).

Note that these figures do not include the 19,300 people (2017-19) who were detained following their unauthorised arrival in the UK, averaging between 6,000 and 7,000 per year.

However, claims by those detained have accounted for around a fifth of total asylum applications between 2017 and 2019.


The newly released analysis provides fresh evidence of increasing abuse of our overwhelmed asylum system which is now costing taxpayers nearly a billion pounds per year (see our longer brief on the sorry state of our asylum system, new evidence of mounting backlogs and a brief about one particular means by which asylum is being abused).

We have pointed to this abuse before only to be shouted down by representatives of the immigration industry who attacked anyone referring to this obvious and perniciously-widening problem (for example, see our August 2020 briefing).

As the Home Office themselves state in the introduction to their analysis: “Most people detained within the UK following immigration offences raised an issue while in detention (most commonly an asylum claim), and these people were almost always released while the issue was considered. However, few people subsequently received a positive decision. Some types of issue have become more common in recent years while others have reduced, but overall there has been a clear increase in issues being raised.”

Such abuse is only encouraged by the ongoing deterioration in immigration enforcement in recent years (see brief).

It is time for decisive action to fix these mounting problems and to tackle abuse of asylum and human trafficking provisions.

17th March 2021 - Asylum, Legal Matters, Migration Trends, Policy

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