Top 20 facts about asylum - Refugee Council
February 25, 2016

Top 20 facts about asylum

Today the Government has published its migration statistics for 2015.

As we are all aware, the truth about asylum is often in short supply, with the same old myths and scare stories peddled again and again.

At the Refugee Council, we believe it’s time to put that right.

Here are our top 20 facts based on the latest asylum stats.

1. The world is in the grip of one of the greatest refugee crisis ever. Around 60 million people around the globe have been forced to flee from their homes. 

2. It’s poor countries, not rich, western countries, who look after the vast majority of the world’s refugees. The UN’s Refugee Agency estimates that 86% of the world’s refugees are sheltered by developing countries.

Lebanon, a country half the size of Wales, is single-handedly hosting around the same number of refugees who fled to all of Europe last year. 

3. The dreadful scenes we’re seeing in the Mediterranean and across Europe are a symptom of this wider crisis. But make no mistake, this is a refugee crisis. According to the UN’s Refugee Agency, 84% of those arriving in Europe during 2015 came from the world’s top 10 refugee producing countries.

4. Given the world is in the grip of the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War, comparatively few people are able to make it to Britain in their search for safety.

Last year over 1.2 million people sought safety in Europe; around double the number who had asked for protection in 2014. Yet Britain received just 38,878 asylum applications, including dependants. 

5. Britain is not Europe’s top recipient of asylum applications. Germany, Sweden, France, Hungary, Italy and Austria all receive significantly more applications than we do. Britain also receives fewer applications than Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland  and slightly more than Finland.

Together, Germany and Hungary receive over half of all applications made in the EU.

Britain received just 3% of all asylum claims made in the EU last year.

We are ranked 17th in Europe in terms of asylum applications per head of population.

6. That means that more people arrived in Hungary in a single month last year than claimed asylum in Britain all of 2015.

7. Britain offers no asylum visa. In fact, there are very few, legal ways for refugees to safely escape their country and claim asylum in another country. The truth is, when war breaks out, countries like Britain often close down refugees’ legal escape routes. Before the Syrian conflict broke out, under 30% of applications for travel visas from Syrians were refused. In 2015, this rocketed to nearly 50%.

Refugees don’t place their lives in smugglers’ hands because they want to. They do it because they often have no other choice.

8. This lack of safe and legal routes for refugees to reach safety and claim asylum has deadly results. In 2015, 3,771 men, women and children lost their lives during their desperate attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Every death was a tragedy. So far this year, over 400 more people have died.

9. World events often correlate directly with asylum applications. On-going unrest in the Middle East and South Sudan and a sustained wave of people fleeing tyranny in Eritrea led to rises in applications from those nationalities. The top 5 nationalities applying for asylum in Britain last year were:

  • Eritrean
  • Iranian
  • Sudanese
  • Syrian
  • Pakistani

10.  Asylum seekers make up a tiny proportion of new arrivals in Britain. Today’s statistics show that 617,000 people arrived in Britain in the year to September 2015 – asylum seekers coming to Britain escaping persecution made up just 6% of that figure. Of course, not all asylum seekers will be granted permission to stay in Britain.

11. 39% of initial decisions made last year were grants of some form of protection.

12. However, many refugees had to rely on the courts rather than the Government to provide them with the protection they needed. The proportion of asylum appeals allowed in 2015 increased to 35% up from 28% in 2014.

13. In 2015 we witnessed a shocking rise in the refusal rate of Eritrean asylum seekers because of dodgy new guidelines being used by the Home Office.

These guidelines have been widely discredited but the Home Office is refusing to review them. In the meantime, many Eritrean refugees are being forced to rely on the courts to provide them with the protection they need. By the end of 2015, a startling 90% of refusals on Eritrean claims which are appealed are overturned by the courts.

14. Unaccompanied children were far less likely than adults to be granted refugee protection. Overall, 34% of decisions on asylum applications were specifically grants of asylum, compared to just 27% for separated children. Instead, many separated children are granted short term leave to remain which expires after 2.5 years.

15. The number of Syrian refugees resettled in Britain stood at just 1,337 since the conflict began. The Government has promised to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020. That’s just 4,000 a year. There are 4.7 million Syrian refugees.

16. And the number of Syrians who have sought asylum in Britain since the conflict began stands at just 7,594. In 2015 alone, over 388,000 Syrians have arrived in Europe by sea. Like most of the world’s refugees, very few Syrians make it to Britain in their search for safety.

17. The backlog in cases pending a decision rose to 26,409, up 15% compared to 2014. Each one of these cases represents a person stuck living in limbo, anxiously awaiting news of their fate.

18. At the end of 2015, 34,363 asylum seekers and their dependants were being supported by the Government. This figure has increased each quarter since the end of September 2012, but is still below the figure for end of 2003 when there were 80,123 asylum seekers being supported. This does not mean asylum seekers live in luxury; far from it; people have no say in where they live and are often left to survive on around £5 a day.

19. During 2015, 14,751 asylum seekers had been locked up inside detention centres at some point. Shamefully, over a third of all asylum seekers find themselves detained during the asylum process. Despite the Government’s 2010 pledge to end child detention for immigration purposes, 128 children were imprisoned during this time. Two thirds of the children who left detention were released, rendering their detention not only harmful but futile.

20. In the last year, just 670 non Syrian refugees were resettled in Britain via programmes run in conjunction with the UN’s Refugee Agency (UNHCR). A truly woeful number given other countries resettle thousands of refugees. UNHCR estimates there are around 1 million refugees around the world in desperate need of a resettlement place. 

Want to share these facts with other people? Request a copy of our myth busting guide Tell it Like it Is by emailing: