Asylum seekers
  What is asylum?
  Where do asylum seekers come from?
  Who takes them?
  How many are accepted in the UK?
  What proof do they need?
  What help do they get?

Facts about asylum-seekers

What is asylum?

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

Also the UK is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights which prevents the UK sending someone to a country where there is a real risk of exposure to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Council of Europe, November 1950: European Convention on Human Rights UK Home Office information

Where do they come from?

In 2010, the main countries of origin for asylum seekers who came to the UK were Zimbabwe, Iran and Pakistan.

For asylum seekers coming to other EU countries, the main countries of origin are Afghanistan, Russia, Serbia, Iraq and Somalia.

Who takes them?

In 2010, the UK took 23,700. It ranked fifth among EU countries, after France (51,600), Germany (48,500), Sweden (31,900) and Belgium (26,100). Per head of population, the Republic of Cyprus takes the most.

Of those who apply to the UK, how many get accepted?

In 2010, decisions were made on 26,690 asylum applications. Of these 16% were granted asylum, 75% were refused, and 9% were given discretionary leave to remain. These percentages vary very little from year to year.

In 2011 52,526 people who had no right to be in the UK were deported or left voluntarily.

The number of decisions made on asylum in any one year are not the same as the number of applications made in that year due to the huge backlog. 

For monthly and quarterly reports and figures see Immigration Control and Asylum in the Migration section of the UK National Statistics website.

What proof do applicants need to get accepted?

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

To obtain asylum you have to be recognised as a refugee.  A refugee is a person whose 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 April 1, 2003 for some applicants who do not qualify for asylum status. Those granted this status are entitled to work and to receive 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” basic accommodation, in dispersal areas, 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.
Current (2012) weekly subsistence rates for asylum seekers: Couple £72.52;  Person over 18, £36.62
See 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

Refugee Action 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. They said 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 storyRefugee Action 2006 - PDF document, see p.6 in particular.

Asylum seekers in the UK