The number of applications for asylum in the UK has plunged during the Covid-19 pandemic, figures show, as global restrictions have disrupted travel.
In the first four weeks of the UK lockdown, 800 applications were lodged, a fall of 69% from the 2,500 made in the preceding four weeks. The number of asylum applications had been steadily rising since 2018.
The number of applications granted or rejected also fell as interviews with applicants and most decision-making was stopped. There were 300 initial decisions made in the first four weeks of the lockdown, about a sixth of the number before the emergency measures.
In addition, no refugees have been resettled in the UK since 12 March, according to the one-off Home Office report on the impact of the pandemic on immigration.
Arrivals at airports have fallen by 99% compared with a year ago, arrivals by sea are 97% lower and international rail arrivals are down by 98%.
There have been reports of undocumented migrants arriving in small boats across the Channel. Figures provided to MPs show 463 people were intercepted while attempting the crossing in January, February and March. The majority were Iranian. Figures for April are yet to be released.
Judith Dennis, the policy manager at the Refugee Council, said: “Initiating an asylum claim during a global pandemic is not easy, and we suspect there are many people in England who need to make a claim but fear a long journey on public transport to one of the four regional intake units is just too dangerous, and could put themselves and others at risk of contracting Covid-19.
“This is very concerning, as people in this category are especially vulnerable to destitution, and cannot access any asylum support until they have made their asylum claim.”
The Home Office report says: “Asylum applications, and initial decisions have both fallen sharply since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and the beginning of restrictions in the UK.
“The UK has continued to accept asylum applications throughout the pandemic. However, restrictions in the UK, across Europe and the rest of the world are likely to have limited the ability of some migrants who may have gone on to claim asylum in the UK from doing so.”
It says decision-making on asylum applications has resumed after the implementation of measures to allow for safe working, although face-to-face interviews have not.
The Home Office said it was considering implementing remote interviewing to allow applications to continue to be reviewed.
Elsewhere, the report says the number of applications to the governments EU settlement scheme, both received and concluded, fell in April because of limited routes for application and reduced capacity at the Home Office.
The department received 67,300 applications in April, down 46% from the previous month, and it concluded 73,000 applications, down 51%.
Up to the end of April, nearly 65,000 Covid-19-related extensions of leave were granted, mainly to Chinese nationals who were unable to travel home at the end of their visa.