Top 20 facts about refugees and asylum seekers - Refugee Council
February 23, 2017

Top 20 facts about refugees and asylum seekers

Today the Government has published its migration statistics for 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 last year’s 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 had to flee their homes – that’s like the entire British population having to leave. Millions have had to leave their country entirely and have become refugees. Fortunately most of us in Britain have grown up in safety, but if we were ever to become refugees, we’d all hope that another country would welcome us.

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. While the pictures we may see on TV perhaps make us think that most refugees are coming to Europe it simply isn’t the case. Last year, Uganda welcomed 489,000 South Sudanese refugees.

That’s one country single-handedly helping over 100,000 more people than arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean all year.

In two weeks alone Uganda offered refuge to more people than Britain did all year.

3. The dreadful scenes still being witnessed in the Mediterranean and across Europe are a symptom of this wider, global crisis. Last year, 362,376 people arrived in Europe via sea. Just under half were 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 12,000 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.

In 2016, over 1.2 million people sought safety in Europe. Yet Britain received just 38,517 asylum applications, including dependants – that’s nearly a 4% decrease since the year before.

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

Britain only received around 3% of all asylum claims made in the EU during last 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. Last year, record numbers – a shocking 5,096 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 596,000 people arrived in Britain in the year to September 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; last year people were most likely to seek refuge here from the Middle East, desperate to escape on-going conflict and the murderous advance of ISIS. The top 3 countries of origin of people applying for asylum in Britain in 2016 were: Iran, Pakistan and Iraq.

10. The British asylum system is extremely tough. Just 28% of initial decisions made 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 41% compared with 35% in 2015.

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 8 people arrived through it last year. Just 40 have arrived since the beginning of 2014.

12. Of the children who arrived in Britain alone and under their own steam, just 31% were granted asylum in 2016. 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 country of origin for new applications in 2016 from unaccompanied children was Afghanistan.

13. Last year, the Government has locked up 71 children in immigration detention, despite its promise in 2010 to end the practice. 70% of the children who left detention were released, rendering their detention not only harmful but futile. Last 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 and their welfare will be the responsibility of the scandal plagued G4S.

14. The UK Government has the power to detain people who are here seeking refuge. In 2016, 28,908 people were imprisoned in immigration detention centres; among them many people seeking asylum. 52% were released back into the community rendering their detention pointless. Some nationalities are nearly always released from detention; 94% of Iranians were released during this time period begging the question why they are detained in the first place.

15. Eritrea is one of the most notorious refugee producing countries in the world – but for the majority of last year the UK Government was failing to recognise Eritreans who sought safety here as refugees.

In the first nine months of 2016, just 28% of Eritreans were granted asylum leaving many Eritreans forced to rely on the courts to provide them with the protection they needed: a staggering 87% of refusals on Eritrean claims which were appealed during this time were overturned by the courts.

In October, a court forced the Government to update its guidance on Eritrea. Since then, the vast majority of Eritreans have been recognised as refugees without needing to go to court – with 78% being granted asylum immediately.

16. The number of Syrian refugees resettled in Britain stands at 5,706 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 10,515. 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. Last year, just 804 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 end of last year, 39,389 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. Earlier this month, MPs branded conditions people were forced to live in as a ‘disgrace’.

20. The backlog in cases pending a decision totalled 24,903. 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: