Top 20 facts about refugees and asylum seekers - Refugee Council
August 25, 2016

Top 20 facts about refugees and asylum seekers

Today the Government has published its migration statistics for the first half of 2016.

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 worst forced displacement crises ever. Over 65 million people around the globe have been forced to flee their homes – that’s like the entire British population having to leave.

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.

Most refugees just move from one poor country to another. This summer, over a 5 week period, over 80,000 South Sudanese refugees fled to Uganda.

3. The dreadful scenes we’re seeing in the Mediterranean and across Europe are a symptom of this wider, global crisis. So far this year, over 268,000 people have arrived in Europe via sea. Around half are women and children. 

4. The countries on Europe’s borders – Greece and Italy – are struggling to cope with the numbers of desperate people arriving. In September last year, European countries agreed to relocate 160,000 refugees away from Greece and Italy to help ease the pressure. 11 months on fewer than 4,000 refugees have been relocated. Britain has refused to help at all.

5. 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.

So far in 2016, 598,420 people have sought safety in Europe; around 156,000 more than had asked for protection during the same time period last year. Yet in the first half of this year, Britain received just 19,978 asylum applications, including dependants.

6. Britain is not Europe’s top recipient of asylum applications. Germany, France, Hungary, Italy, Greece and Austria all receive significantly more applications than we do.

Britain has received just 3% of all asylum claims made in the EU so far in 2016.

 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, only around a quarter of applications for travel visas from Syrians were refused. In the last twelve months, this has increased to over 37%.

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 in 2016, 3,166 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 countries of origin of people applying for asylum in Britain are: Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Eritrea, Afghanistan, (Syria 6th).

10.  Asylum seekers make up a tiny proportion of new arrivals in Britain. Today’s statistics show that 633,000 people arrived in Britain in the year to March 2016 – asylum seekers coming to Britain escaping persecution made up just 7% of that figure. Of course, not all asylum seekers will be granted permission to stay in Britain.

11. The British asylum system is extremely tough. Just 33% of initial decisions made so far in 2016 have been grants 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 the first half of 2016 increased to 44.7% compared with 30.6% for the same period last year.

13. Earlier this summer, the UN accused the Eritrean regime of committing crimes against humanity, of mass enslavement and gross human rights violations. It also clearly stated that Eritreans fleeing the country should be granted international protection. Yet the UK Government is still failing to recognise Eritreans as refugees. This means that many Eritrean refugees are being forced to rely on the courts to provide them with the protection they need. In the last twelve months, a startling 87% of refusals on Eritrean claims which are appealed are overturned by the courts.

14.  Only 30% of children who arrived in Britain alone have been granted asylum so far this year. Instead, many separated children are granted short term leave to remain which expires after 2.5 years. The top two countries of origin for new applications in 2016 from unaccompanied children were Iran and Afghanistan.

15. So far this year, the Government has locked up 47 children in immigration detention, despite its promise in 2010 to end the practice. Three quarters of the children who left detention were released, rendering their detention not only harmful but futile. This summer, the Government announced it was closing Cedars, the specialist family detention unit. Sadly it doesn’t mean that fewer children will be imprisoned, instead they will be held in facilities even less well equipped to care for them.

16. The number of Syrian refugees resettled in Britain stands at just 2,898 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 over 4.8 million Syrian refugees.

17. And the number of Syrians who have sought asylum in Britain since the conflict began stands at just 9,988. That’s just 0.2% of Syria’s refugees. Like most of the world’s refugees, very few Syrians make it to Britain in their search for safety.

18. In the first half of 2016, just 282 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 over 1 million refugees around the world in desperate need of a resettlement place.

19. At the year ending June 2016, 37,030 asylum seekers and their dependants were being supported by the Government. This figure has risen since 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.

20. The backlog in cases pending a decision totalled 26,392.  Each one of these cases represents a person stuck living in limbo, anxiously awaiting news of their fate. The number pending an initial decision for more than 6 months increased by 84% from 3,606 to 6,637.

Want to share the truth about refugees and asylum with other people? Request a copy of our myth-busting guide Tell it Like it Is by emailing