Top 20 facts about refugees and asylum seekers - Refugee Council
December 1, 2016

Top 20 facts about refugees and asylum seekers

Today the Government has published its migration statistics for the first nine months 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 nearly nine in ten of the world’s refugees are sheltered by developing countries.

Most refugees just move from one poor country to another. In the first two weeks of  November alone, more than 44,000 refugees from South Sudan arrived in Uganda. That’s more refugees than have arrived in Britain all year.  The recent arrivals in Uganda mean that 340,000 people have fled there since July. The country now shelters more refugees than any other in Africa.

3. The dreadful scenes still being witnessed in the Mediterranean and across Europe are a symptom of this wider, global crisis. So far this year, over 347,000 people have arrived in Europe via sea. Just under 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 2015, European countries agreed to relocate 160,000 refugees away from Greece and Italy to help ease the pressure. Over a year on, fewer than 8,000 refugees have been relocated.

Britain has refused to help at all and has actually been sending people seeking asylum back to countries on Europe’s borders, further adding to the chaos.

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

So far in 2016, over a million people have sought safety in Europe. Yet in the first nine months of this year, Britain received just 29,246 asylum applications, including dependants.

6. Britain is not Europe’s top recipient of asylum applications.

Britain has only received around 3% of all asylum claims made in the EU during the first nine months of this year.

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.

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

This lack of safe and legal routes for refugees to reach safety and claim asylum has deadly results. This year, record numbers – a shocking 4,663 men, women and children – lost their lives during their desperate attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Every death was a tragedy.

8. People who are seeking asylum make up a tiny proportion of new arrivals in Britain. Today’s statistics show that 650,000 people arrived in Britain in the year to June 2016 – but just 7% of them were seeking refuge here.  Of course, not all people seeking asylum will be granted permission to stay in Britain.

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, Afghanistan and Syria.

10. The British asylum system is extremely tough. Just 28% of initial decisions made so far in 2016 have been grants of protection (asylum or humanitarian protection). However, 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 so far this year increased to 43% compared with 33% for the same period last year.

11. War and persecution often divides refugees from their families but there are few straightforward, legal ways for refugees to safely join loved ones in Britain. One way which refugees could be allowed to travel to the UK safely is through the Mandate scheme. This enables refugees in other countries to join their family members in Britain. Sadly, this route is rarely used by the Government and just 4 people have arrived through it so far this year. Just 36 have arrived since the beginning of 2014.

12. Of the children who arrived in Britain alone and under their own steam, just 29% (443) 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; leaving them anxious about their futures. The top two countries of origin for new applications in 2016 from unaccompanied children were Afghanistan and Iran.

13. So far this year, the Government has locked up 68 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.

14. The UK Government has the power to detain people who are here seeking refuge. In the year ending September 2016 29,762 people were imprisoned in immigration detention centres; among them many people seeking asylum. 43% were released back into the community rendering their detention pointless. Some nationalities are nearly always released from detention; 92% of Iranians were released during this time period begging the question why they are detained in the first place.

15. 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 during the period covered in today’s statistics, the UK Government has consistently been 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. In October, a court forced the Government to update its guidance on Eritrea.

16. The number of Syrian refugees resettled in Britain stands at 4,414 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. The Government has not said if it will continue resettling refugees from Syria beyond 2020.

17. The number of Syrians who have sought asylum in Britain since the conflict began stands at just 10,247. That’s just 0.2% of Syria’s refugees. Like most of the world’s refugees, very few Syrians come to Britain in their search for safety.

18. So far this year, just 468 non Syrian refugees were resettled in Britain via the Gateway Protection Programme run in conjunction with the UN’s Refugee Agency (UNHCR).  Sadly, just 1% of the world’s refugees will ever be resettled which means many refugees face a long, uncertain wait to hear if they will ever be able to rebuild their lives in safety.

19. At the year ending September 2016, 43,716 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. In fact, conditions people are housed in are often so grim that Parliament is currently holding an Inquiry into the issue.

20. The backlog in cases pending a decision totalled 25,902.  Each one of these cases represents a person stuck living in limbo, anxiously awaiting news of their fate.

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