Asylum seekers and refugees - who's who?
The definition of a refugee according to The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is:
“A person 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 or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”
In the UK, a person becomes a refugee when government agrees that an individual who has applied for asylum meets the definition in the Refugee Convention they will ‘recognise’ that person as a refugee and issue them with refugee status documentation. Usually refugees in the UK are given five years’ leave to remain as a refugee. They must then must apply for further leave, although their status as a refugee is not limited to five years.
Asylum seeker (person seeking asylum)
A person who has left their country of origin and formally applied for asylum in another country but whose application has not yet been concluded. Wherever possible, we prefer to describe someone as a person seeking asylum as we feel that the term asylum seeker is dehumanising.
Refused asylum seeker
A person whose asylum application has been unsuccessful and who has no other claim for protection awaiting a decision. Some refused asylum seekers voluntarily return home, others are forcibly returned. For some, it is not safe or practical to return until conditions in their country change.
Someone who has moved to another country for other reasons, such as to find work.
Developing countries – not the UK – look after most of the world's refugees
86%of refugees live in countries neighbouring their country of origin
- At the end of 2020 around 82.4 million people were forcibly displaced across the world. Of these, 26.4 million were refugees, whilst 48 million were internally displaced within their country of origin.
- 86% of the world’s refugees are living in countries neighbouring their country of origin, often in developing countries.
- Over 6.7 million people have fled conflict in Syria, and many more are displaced inside the country. Turkey is the biggest refugee hosting country in the world. At the end of 2020 Turkey was providing safety to 3.7 million Syrian refugees. By the end of February 2021 the UK had resettled 20,319 refugees from Syria under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS). This includes 239 refugees who were resettled prior to the target of 20,000 being set.
1%The UK is home to approx. 1% of the 26.4 million refugees, forcibly displaced across the world.
People seeking asylum are looking for a place of safety
42%of displaced people across the world are children
- The top ten refugee producing countries in 2020 all have poor human rights records or on-going conflict. People seeking asylum are fleeing from these conflicts and abuses, looking for safety
- In 2020, more than two thirds of the refugees across the world came from just five countries: Syria (6.7 million), Venezuela (4.0 million), Afghanistan (2.6 million), South Sudan (2.2 million) and Myanmar (1.1 million).
- There is no such thing as an ‘illegal’ or ‘bogus’ asylum seeker. Under international law, anyone has the right to apply for asylum in any country that has signed the 1951 Convention and to remain there until the authorities have assessed their claim
- It is recognised in the 1951 Convention that people fleeing persecution may have to use irregular means in order to escape and claim asylum in another country – there is no legal way to travel to the UK for the specific purpose of seeking asylum
- The 1951 Refugee Convention guarantees everybody the right to apply for asylum. It has saved millions of lives. No country has ever withdrawn from it
Refugees make a huge contribution to the UK
- About 1,200 medically qualified refugees are recorded on the British Medical Association’s database. It is estimated that it costs around £25,000 to support a refugee doctor to practise in the UK. Training a new doctor is estimated to cost between £200,000 and £250,000
- Children in the UK asylum system contribute very positively to schools across the country. This in turn enables more successful integration of families into local communities
In partnership with the NHS we help health professionals restart their careers
The total cost of a training a refugee doctor to work in the NHS is just 12% that of training a new doctor for one year.Read more
Britain's asylum system is very tough
41%of initial decisions made in the year ending December 2020 resulted in a grant of asylum or other form of protection
- The UK asylum system is strictly controlled and complex. It is very difficult for people seeking asylum to provide the evidence required to be granted protection. The decision-making process is extremely tough and many people’s claims are rejected. In the year ending December 2020, 41% of initial decisions resulted in a grant of asylum or other form of protection.
- Initial Home Office decision-making remains poor. Many refugees had to rely on the courts rather than the Government to provide them with the protection they need. The proportion of asylum appeals allowed in the year ending December 2020 was 39%.
- There are particular problems with decisions on women’s claims. Women who turn to the courts for help when their asylum claims are refused are more likely to have their protection needs recognised by the courts. Women tell us that it is in part because the asylum system can feel very hostile and it is difficult for them to give full details of the violence they have experienced
- Since 2005 most people recognised as refugees are only given permission to stay in the UK for five years. This makes it difficult for them to make decisions about their future, to find work and make definite plans for their life in the UK
Asylum seekers and refugees do not get large handouts from the state
£5People seeking asylum are often living on Home Office support equivalent to £5.66 per day
- Asylum seekers do not come to the UK to claim benefits. Most know nothing about welfare benefits before they arrive and had no expectation that they would receive financial support
- Most asylum seekers are living in poverty and experience poor health and hunger. Many families are not able to pay for the basics such as clothing, powdered milk and nappies
- Almost all asylum seekers are not allowed to work and are forced to rely on state support – this can be as little as £5 a day to live on
- Asylum seeking women who are destitute are vulnerable to violence in the UK. More than a fifth of the women accessing our therapeutic services had experienced sexual violence in this country
Give people seeking asylum the right to work
Most people seeking asylum are unable to work whilst their claim is being processed, which can take several months or years. They are forced to survive on just £5.66 per day. Leaving them struggling to support themselves and their families, whilst the Government wastes the talents of thousands of people.Campaign with us
Support our work
- Asylum Matters parliamentary briefing, 2018 (PDF)
- Asylum statistics 2018: changing arrivals, same concerns
- BMA/Refugee Council refugee doctor database, 4 June 2008
- Deciding Where to go: Policies, People and Perceptions Shaping Destination Preferences
- Home Office asylum statistics – Year ending September 2020
Reaping the rewards: re-training refugee healthcare professionals for the NHS, October 2009 (PDF)
- Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea, 2015
- UNHCR, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2020
- United Nations 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
- Women seeking asylum: Safe from violence in the UK?, 2018