The Refugee Council responds to media reports linking terrorism and asylum

22 Jan 2003

Over the last week there have been a number of attempts in the media to suggest a link between asylum and terrorism. However, the fact is that the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers and refugees are not terrorists, nor have they committed any kind of crime. They are simply men, women and children exercising their basic human right to escape persecution and find sanctuary elsewhere.

Fazil Kawani, Communications Director at the Refugee Council said:

"For centuries, refugees have arrived and settled in the UK. Many of them have made huge contributions to this country, and most have lived peacefully alongside other communities. Very often these refugees have fled from human rights abuses committed in brutal states, or from the actions of terrorist groups. Events of the last two weeks should neither stop us providing protection to those who flee from persecution nor lead us to mistakenly criminalise the entire refugee population.

"Whilst extending our sincerest sympathy to the family, friends, and colleagues of Detective Constable Stephen Oake, we would urge media and public to recognise that the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers do not engage in any criminal activity. The asylum system exists to ensure that the world's most vulnerable can find a safe haven from persecution. The rights and safety of the thousands of people in genuine need should not be compromised because of the activities of a criminal minority."

The main points we would like to make are:

Only a tiny minority of asylum seekers are alleged to be involved in last week's events
A total of 88,300 people (including dependants) applied for asylum in the UK in 2001. This week it is alleged that three people who applied for asylum are being detained in relation to the events of the last ten days - although the full facts surrounding these events are not yet clear. The association of asylum seekers en masse with terrorism is wildly misleading.

There are many other routes into the UK
The number of people who enter the country and seek protection through the asylum system is minimal when considered in the context of the annual traffic across UK borders. Last year, around 88 million people travelled across our country's borders. It would be impossible to make the UK utterly impervious to criminals and terrorists - dangerous people who have the money and networks to get in to the UK without recourse to the asylum system.

Protection is a right, not a privilege
The right to protection is enshrined in international law in the 1951 Refugee Convention. The statistics show that the majority of people who seek refuge in the UK have taken flight from regimes with well-documented and incontestable records of human rights abuses - from countries like Iraq, Zimbabwe, Somalia and Afghanistan.

Asylum is not a safe haven for terrorists
The 1951 Refugee Convention does not provide a safe haven for terrorists, nor are people protected from criminal prosecution if they transgress the laws of their host country. On the contrary, the Refugee Convention is carefully framed to exclude people who have committed particularly serious crimes, whilst ensuring sanctuary to those in genuine need.

The Refugee Council has published a briefing on the facts behind this issue.