Here are the answers to some of the most common questions Refugee Action gets asked about refugees and people seeking asylum, and what they experience here in the UK.
Want the real facts about refugees?
What is a refugee?
According to the UN Refugee Convention, the definition of a refugee is someone who: ‘owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country’ (Article 1, 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees)
What is an asylum seeker?
The definition of an asylum seeker is someone who has arrived in a country and asked for asylum. Until they receive a decision as to whether or not they are a refugee, they are known as an asylum seeker. In the UK, this means they do not have the same rights as a refugee or a British citizen would. For example, people seeking asylum aren’t allowed to work.
The right to seek asylum is a legal right we all share. It isn’t illegal to seek asylum, because seeking asylum is a legal process. It also isn’t illegal to be refused asylum – it just means you haven’t been able to meet the very strict criteria to prove your need for protection as a refugee.
Do people have to claim asylum in the first safe country they reach?
No. Neither the 1951 Refugee Convention, nor EU law requires a person to claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. People trying to cross the Channel can legitimately claim asylum in the UK if they reach it.
The Dublin Regulations is a system which allows one EU country to require another to accept responsibility for a person who has claimed asylum when specific conditions apply, including that the person is shown to have previously made a claim of asylum in another EU country. The intention is that asylum claims are then shared more evenly between EU countries.
The Dublin system only operates within the EU and it will almost certainly cease to apply to the UK following Brexit.
Channel crossings and the right to claim asylum
Stories of desperate people crossing the channel to reach the UK have dominated news and social media these past few weeks. Of course we do not know the experiences, backgrounds and personal stories of every person trying to arrive in this way. But it is clear that many of them intend to claim asylum here.
Before all of the debate about borders, safe countries, security and economics begins, we must start from a place of humanity. The people who are the subject of these debates are desperate, they have been through hell, and seeking asylum is a fundamental human right.
Are there many refugees and asylum seekers in the UK?
No. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), by the end of 2018 there were 126,720 refugees, 45,244 pending asylum cases and 125 stateless persons in the UK.
That’s around one quarter of a percent (0.26%) of the UK’s total population.
Is the number of people seeking asylum in the UK increasing?
Asylum applications to the UK are relatively low – 35,566 in the year to December 2019. This is significantly lower than the peak of 84,000 applications back in 2002.
Which countries help the most refugees?
At the end of 2018, the country hosting the most refugees was Turkey – home to almost 3.7 million refugees. Other significant host countries for refugees were Pakistan (1.4 million), Uganda (1.2 million), Sudan (1.1 million), Iran (979,435) and Lebanon (949,666).
How many Syrian refugees are there and how many is the UK helping?
According to the UNHCR, by the end of 2018 there were 6.7 million Syrian refugees worldwide. Around 4.6 million of these refugees are currently being hosted by just two countries – Turkey and Lebanon.
As well as providing aid to the refugee camps on Syria’s borders, the UK has pledged to resettle 20,000 Syrians by 2020 through the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. By June 2019, 17,051 Syrian refugees had come to the UK through this scheme.
Which countries in Europe have the most people seeking asylum?
In 2018, Germany received the highest number of asylum applications (161,900), and France the second most (114,500).
Can people seeking asylum work or claim benefits?
People seeking asylum are not allowed to claim benefits or work in the UK. If they are destitute and have no other means of supporting themselves, they can apply to receive asylum support. This is set at around £5.66 per day. Refugee Action has been actively campaigning to lift the ban on work for people seeking asylum since 2018. The right to work would allow people seeking asylum to support themselves, to use their talents and experience, and help them to feel part of their community.
What happens to someone when they get refugee status?
When a person is given refugee status, they have just 28 days to find accommodation and apply for mainstream benefits before they are evicted from asylum accommodation. Many refugees become homeless at this stage. This is a huge upheaval and causes many complex ongoing issues – especially as so many have been in the asylum system for months or even years.
Isn’t the UK safe? Why do people still need help here?
It’s easy to think that once people arrive in the UK, their journey to safety is over. However, regardless of how they arrive, people who come to the UK seeking safety face a number of issues here which threaten their dignity, their safety, and in some cases, their lives.
Banned from working, people seeking asylum are forced to live below the poverty line
People are often left to wait for months or years for a decision on their claim
We work with people who suffer horrific violence, attacks and racist abuse
Lack of access to English language lessons leaves many unable to integrate
Many people seeking safety are forced into housing that is crowded, damp and unsafe
How does Refugee Action help?
We give expert advice and guidance to those struggling to navigate the failing and unfair asylum system. We help those with refugee status to settle into their new homes and communities – everything from helping children into schools, to support booking doctors appointments, and ensuring they get a hot meal when they arrive.
We support people who suffer violent attacks or other hate crimes, to ensure they know their rights and get the help they need. We campaign for change, collaborating with those who have direct experience of the systems we are working to improve.
We want every person who comes to the UK seeking safety to have a chance at a new life – no challenge is too big or too small for us to take on.
Small but powerful
As a small charity committed to helping one of the most marginalised communities in the UK, every gift we recieve is truly appreciated – and makes a genuine difference to the lives of people who come here seeking sanctuary.
In 2017/18, Refugee Action:
Since 1981, we’ve been fighting to make sure that the UK shows refugees and people seeking asylum the best of humanity.
We support survivors of violence, disaster and persecution to uphold their human rights and live free from poverty. But we can’t do it alone.