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Disclaimer: The information provided in these policies/this section is intended for guidance only. It is not a substitute for professional advice and we cannot accept any responsibility for loss occasioned as a result of any person acting or refraining from acting upon it.

There is sometimes confusion about the difference between the terms ‘refugee’, ‘asylum seeker’ and ‘economic migrant.’ Here are some definitions:

Refugee: someone who is in need of protection and would be at risk of persecution if they returned home. Under international law the word “refugee” has a very precise meaning: someone who: “…owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country…” (United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees, 1951)

Asylum seeker: someone who has asked to be recognised as a refugee and is waiting for the government to make a decision. They have made themselves known to the authorities and are part of an on-going legal process.

Refused asylum seeker: someone who has had their claim for asylum turned down because the Home Office has decided that they do not need protection in the UK.

City of Sanctuary usually uses the term people seeking sanctuary to cover both refugees and asylum seekers as well as people seeking other forms of protection. Please see our Guide to the Use of Language document.

Economic migrant: a person who leaves their home country to work in another country.

Sheffield City of Sanctuary have a great A-Z of definitions on their site which includes a lot more terms and acronyms!

The Asylum Process

The Right to Remain toolkit is a comprehensive guide to the immigration and asylum system.

LASSN have produced this video which provides a simple guide to the asylum process.


Keeping up-to-date with facts and figures can be difficult. Here is a brief summary of the 2020 figures for asylum and resettlement.

Here are some sites where you can access the latest data:

The Home Office publishes quarterly immigration statistics which include asylum data for the year preceeding eg. the April-June 2018 release includes asylum data for June 2017-June 2018.

This briefing paper from the Parliament website may help with interpreting migration statistics and this article gives some context about how they are collated.

The Atlas of Migration is an online guide through complexities of data about migration and demography that will help citizens to understand the facts behind migration as well as provide the policymakers with the best evidence

The Refugee Council publish regular briefings and statistics, including a quarterly briefing on the Home Office’s statistics release. They also have a Top Facts page with 20 top facts based on the Sep 2018 Home Office statistics.

The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford publishes briefings on a range of topics including detention. Their latest asylum briefing can be found here.

UNHCR has a section on ‘Asylum in the UK‘ which addresses commonly asked questions eg. how many refugees are there in the UK?

‘How many asylum seekers and refugees are there in the UK?’ – an article published by the House of Commons Library in March 2019 with some useful infographics.

Never get caught out – click here to download a pocket size fact sheet.