“He talks about the [asylum] backlog. 112,000 decisions made last year – a higher number than in any year in the past two decades”

That’s what Rishi Sunak told the House of Commons at this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions.

The figure comes from the combined number of “initial decisions” taken in each month of 2023, according to the latest government statistics.

The last time it was this high was in 2001, when the total number of initial asylum decisions was over 123,000.

But there’s an important piece of context missing from the Prime Minister’s claim.

The “initial decisions” category includes asylum claims that have been withdrawn by the person making them.

And the first nine months of 2023 – the latest period for which we have this kind of detail – saw an already record-breaking number of asylum applications withdrawn.

(We’ll have to wait until February for data on how many claims in the final months of the year fall into this category.)

Of the 61,484 initial decisions taken between January and September 2023, more than 16,000 (27 per cent) were withdrawn claims.

That’s two-and-a-half times more than in the second-highest year on record, 2022, when 5,944 applications were withdrawn.

FactCheck verdict

Rishi Sunak is right that the number of asylum decisions taken in 2023 is the highest in (more than) two decades. But there is vital context missing: that nearly a third of the claims for which we have data were not actively decided by the Home Office, but were instead withdrawn by the person seeking asylum.

Downing Street was contacted for comment.