New research shows asylum seekers do not choose to come to the UK

04 Mar 2010

Independent research published by the Refugee Council today has revealed refugees have little, if any, choice over which country they claim asylum in, and that few know what to expect before they arrive in the UK. The groundbreaking report ‘Chance or Choice: Understanding why asylum seekers come to the UK’, by Professor Heaven Crawley of Swansea University, also shows that harsh policies which make the lives of asylum seekers tougher after their arrival in the UK have no demonstrable influence over whether people claim asylum in the UK.

In-depth interviews with asylum seekers and refugees revealed that:

  • Over two thirds did not choose to come to the UK.
  • Most only discovered they were going to the UK after leaving their country of origin.
  • The primary objective for all those interviewed was reaching a place of safety.
  • Around three quarters had no knowledge of welfare benefits and support before coming to the UK – most had no expectation they would be given financial support.
  • 90% were working in their country of origin and very few were aware they would not be allowed to work when they arrived in the UK.

The majority of the interviewees explained their lives were in danger and that they had to leave their home countries very quickly– within a few days or weeks – leaving them little time to plan or pick their destination. In addition, most were helped to leave by an external party or agent, who made the key decisions about their destination and helped facilitate their journey to safety.

While none of those interviewed came to the UK in order to seek work, they fully expected to have to work to support themselves, and were not anticipating being given money by the government to live on. The single biggest area of British life they were familiar with was football.

Donna Covey, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said:

“So much of the debate around asylum centres on the UK being a destination of choice for refugees and the notion that people choose to come here because they will have an easier time of it. The reality is that asylum seekers are forced to flee for their lives. This report shows that in desperate circumstances most exercise very little choice about how or where they go to escape persecution.

“The UK government has made life very tough for asylum seekers that do get here, in the hope that this will prevent more from coming. This research shows, however, that the main reason asylum seekers come here is to escape conflict, and no amount of barbaric policy-making will influence whether they come here or not.

“The message is clear – treating asylum seekers badly after they arrive in the UK serves no purpose other than to perpetuate suffering and misery. This report sheds some much-needed light on an area of the asylum debate which is grossly distorted and misrepresented.  We urge everyone – politicians, newspaper editors, the public – to heed the findings of this report and address the reasons why asylum seekers come to the UK in a more humane and informed way.”

Professor Heaven Crawley, author of the report said:

“A significant number of politicians, policy makers, and the public appear to believe that asylum seekers are really economic migrants who make decisions about where to seek asylum based on information about asylum systems, opportunities for employment and access to welfare benefits.

“There is a widely held belief that asylum seekers have a sufficiently detailed knowledge of these phenomena to make rational and informed choices about destinations.

“This research investigates the decisions made by asylum seekers who come to the UK and explores the extent to which these decisions are a reflection of chance or choice. It builds upon the growing, but as yet still limited, body of evidence about the ‘choices’ that individuals are – or are not – able to exert over the country in which they will seek asylum, and the factors that might contribute to the decision making process.”