Asylum seekers in the UK

What is Asylum?

Asylum is protection given by a country to someone who is fleeing persecution in their own country. It is given under the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (PDF download).

The UK also adheres to the European Convention on Human Rights which prevents the UK sending someone to a country where there is a real risk they will be exposed to torture, or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Council of Europe, November 1950:

European Convention on Human Rights
UK Home Office information

Who takes them?

In the EU, the UK ranks fourth after Sweden, France and Italy for the most asylum applications. Pro rata to population size, Malta has the highest number of requests.

Where do they come from?

In 2008 the top 10 countries for asylum seekers in the UK were Afghanistan, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Iran, Eritrea, Somalia, Sri Lanka, China, Pakistan, and Nigeria

How many does the UK take?

In 2007, there were 21,775 applications for asylum. Of these 16% were granted asylum; 74% were refused, and 10% were given discretionary leave to remain. Of that 10 per cent, i.e. around 2200, 86% were unaccompanied children.

In the first quarter of 2009, applications for asylum increased from 6,595 in the same quarter 2008 to 8,380, mainly driven by Zimbabwean applications.

In the same period 15,840 people who have no right to be in the UK were deported or left voluntarily.

Immigration and asylum statistics

What proof do applicants have to give to get accepted?

The Asylum Directorate, part of the Border and Immigration Agency (BIA) at the Home Office, has the practical task of administering the asylum process.

The state recognises someone as a refugee by declaring that their circumstances meet the criteria of Article 1(A) of the Refugee Convention.

Article 1(A) defines a refugee as someone who has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

Humanitarian Protection (HP) and Discretionary Leave (DL)

These two categories were introduced on 1st April 2003 for some applicants who do not qualify for asylum status. Those granted this status are entitled to work and public funds. HP will be granted to anyone who is unable to demonstrate a claim for asylum but who would face a serious risk to life or person from: the death penalty, unlawful killing, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Serious criminals, terrorists etc will be excluded from these provisions. DL covers a range of other situations.

More about Discretionary Leave (PDF download)

What help do they get to settle in this country?

Asylum seekers who qualify for Home Office asylum support are provided with “no-choice” basis accommodation, usually in a dispersal area, and a weekly subsistence cash payment. Some asylum seekers choose to receive subsistence support only, which enables them to avoid being subject to dispersal. Accommodation is mainly in Scotland, the north-west, north-east, Midlands and Wales. There is none in London and very little in the south-east. Subsistence support is currently set at 70% of income support levels for adults resident in the UK and full income support levels for dependant children under the age of 18 – for example, weekly subsistence rates for asylum seekers: Couple £66.13. Person under 16 £48.30.

Cash support for asylum seekers

The Home Office offers those asylum seekers granted leave to remain in the UK a grace period of 28 days in which asylum support is continued whilst the applicants are expected to find the means to support and accommodate themselves. Those asylum seekers whose claim is refused are granted a 21 day period of Home Office Asylum support, after which they effectively become refused asylum seekers pending removal.

Asylum seekers’ stories

G – a political activist from the Democratic Republic of Congo. His father was executed for his political activities, G was arrested and badly beaten. In the UK his claim for asylum was refused and his appeal rejected. Now destitute, he is sleeping rough and relying on charity.

(Fit for Purpose yet? Independent Asylum Commission’s Interim Findings - p.37.
Full testimonies

Refugee Action research 2006 interviewed 125 asylum seekers across the country. Persecution, political instability, conflict, abuse or imprisonment were the drivers behind the majority of their asylum applications. A third of the women disclosed that they had been raped. One in ten interviewed described torture. Only 12% had exercised a choice in coming to the UK. The remainder said their destination was decided and arranged by others, usually agents. The vast majority were convinced that returning to their country of origin was not an option, their personal safety would be at risk, though many hoped to return once it was safe to do so.

(The destitution trap. Asylum’s untold story. p.6 Refugee Action 2006)