Britain has a long and noble history of offering shelter and sanctuary to the genuinely persecuted. This record, and our asylum system, should be something we take pride in. It is increasingly obvious, however, that something has gone badly wrong. Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of the Clapham attack suspect Abdul Shokoor Ezedi.
Ezidi arrived in this country illegally in 2016, concealed in the back of a lorry. He claimed that if he returned to Afghanistan his life would be endangered, lodged two unsuccessful asylum claims, and in 2018 was convicted of a sex offence at Newcastle Crown Court.
At this point, it would be reasonable to believe that Ezedi would have been removed from Britain. Instead, he was granted leave to remain in 2021 or 2022, after claiming to have converted to Christianity. He is now wanted on suspicion of attacking a woman and her children with a chemical substance.
This case must serve as a wake-up call. Our asylum system is utterly broken. It does not serve the interests of the British taxpayer, who find themselves paying for the board and lodging of tens of thousands of illegal arrivals while cases drag on through the tribunal system, or those of genuine asylum seekers, who are left in limbo.
Of all its manifold failures, perhaps the most striking and fundamental is the length of time it takes for an asylum seeker to exit the system. While the Government has made much of clearing the “legacy backlog”, this referred only to applications made before June 2022. There are still nearly 100,000 cases awaiting a decision, with people left in limbo for long stretches while their fates are decided.
This is undesirable both for the individual applicant, and for the British taxpayer, who pays to feed and house them while they wait.
It is also at the root of many other flaws. The bill for asylum hotels would be greatly reduced if fewer people were left idly awaiting a decision. The appeals process would be less onerous if people did not spend extended periods in Britain generating potential fresh grounds for claims.
Dealing with this backlog does not require a general amnesty, or giving asylum seekers the right to work. Such calls are well-meaning but fundamentally misguided; they would only increase the migration pull-factor. The answer must be to significantly increase the capacity of the asylum system, with cases heard and dealt with swiftly.
Applicants should be assessed as they arrive, with their claims judged on those circumstances. The present process of interminable appeals must be replaced with a streamlined process. It should not be the case that unsuccessful appeal can follow unsuccessful appeal until the applicant and their lawyers finally hit upon a winning formulation.
Far greater care should be taken to preserve the safety of the British population. Certainly, criminal behaviour in the period between arrival and decision should be disqualifying outside the most exceptional circumstances. Those who abuse our hospitality and our charity must be returned to their country of origin.
Additional resource should also be directed towards far shrewder evaluation of the claims presented. It appears to be all too common knowledge among those seeking a life in this country that a sudden claimed change of sexuality or faith can provide a golden ticket, regardless of their veracity.
Ezedi provides a useful illustration. He was granted asylum after he claimed to have converted to Christianity. This came as news to those who know him; staff at a halal butchers described him as a “good Muslim” who intended to return to Afghanistan “to find a wife”. Why did this not emerge in the evaluation of his appeal?
This problem is not a new one. It came to light in the case of the Liverpool suicide bomber, Emad Al Swealmeen, and the subsequent discovery of a cluster of claimed Christian converts. His case caused the then home secretary Priti Patel to say that the asylum system was “dysfunctional” and “broken”. More than two years later, it is difficult to say that anything has meaningfully changed.
Fixing the current mess will require significant investment in the asylum system, and the setting of clear targets and processes for attaining them. This would be money and effort well-spent, ending the scandal of the backlog, of the asylum hotels and of the criminals let loose. It is time for the Government to act.