New research explodes myth of UK as a 'soft touch' destination of choice for asylum seekers - Refugee Council
July 30, 2002

New research explodes myth of UK as a ‘soft touch’ destination of choice for asylum seekers

Research commissioned by the Home Office exploring the motivations for asylum seekers who come to the UK belies assumptions about ‘pull factors’ which lead people to claim asylum here. Understanding the decision-making of asylum seekers looks into the previous knowledge and perceptions of the UK amongst a sample group of asylum seekers, as well as how and why they reached the UK.

The research was based on interviews with 65 asylum seekers and refugees living in the UK, as well as review of other research. Nearly all the interviewees were driven first and foremost by the need to escape their country of origin and reach a place of safety. Any choices which they were able to make concerning their destination came second, and were not based on calculations of where they would necessarily be better off in terms of social welfare, work opportunities and the asylum system:

“There was very little evidence that the sample respondents had a detailed knowledge of: UK immigration or asylum procedures; entitlements to benefits in the UK; or the availability of work in the UK. There was even less evidence that the respondents had a comparative knowledge of how these phenomena varied between different European countries.”

Far from coming to the UK because they thought it was a ‘soft touch’, none of the asylum seekers interviewed for the research indicated that the UK was thought to offer more generous support than other destinations.

The report supports previous research which has shown that many asylum seekers are not in a position to choose a particular country as a destination or, if they are, the choices available to them are extremely limited. Choice is restricted by haste of departure, access to money and travel documents, transport networks, visa restrictions and other immigration controls and the smugglers who help them reach a place of safety.

For those who took part in the research who did have a choice, decisions on destination were shaped by whether they had friends or relatives there, their knowledge of the UK as a safe and democratic country, previous links between their own country and the UK, including colonial ties, and the ability to speak English.

The research also found that “most of the respondents wished to work and support themselves during the determination of their asylum claim rather than be dependent on the state”. The Government has recently announced its decision to withdraw the concession which gives asylum seekers who have been waiting for more than six months for determination to apply for permission to work.

The research clearly shows that UK asylum and immigration policies and the availability of work are not ‘pull factors’ for asylum seekers. Yet, apparently in response to insistence by the French authorities that asylum seekers are attracted to Britain by the lack of controls on the ability to work and illegal residence, the UK has agreed to clamp down on illegal working, is introducing tough new measures in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill and is issuing a consultation paper on entitlement cards for the general population.

The report concludes that:

“The findings that asylum seekers are ordinary people driven by ordinary desires (such as wanting to live in peace in a democracy which allows free speech), suggests the need for a more benign and better-informed debate about this type of migration, to parallel the existing debate about labour migration”.