What is a refugee?
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
- Economic migrant: a person who leaves their home country to work in another country. They can normally return home when they choose to.
Are there disproportionate numbers of asylum-seekers in the UK?
Most people fleeing war and persecution move within their own country or move to a neighbouring country. 86% of the world’s refugees live in developing countries and usually stay close to their homeland. Turkey hosts nearly 2 million refugees, Pakistan hosts 1.7 million refugees. Lebanon (a country not much bigger than Cornwall with a population of 4.8 million) has over 1 million Syrian refugees.
At the beginning of 2012, there were 149,765 refugees, 18,196 pending asylum cases and 205 stateless persons in the UK [Migration Observatory]. That’s just over 1% of the world’s refugees (UNHCR Global Trends 2012), 7% of the immigrants to the UK and as a percentage of the UK population – 0.04% [Migration Observatory].
Between April and June 2015, the UK received a total of 7,600 asylum applicants (including dependents) – 4% of the EU15 total. Germany, France, Italy, Sweden and Austria all received more applications than the UK, with France, Austria and Italy receiving roughly twice as many as the UK and Germany receiving more than ten times as many (81,000).
Why do asylum-seekers come to Britain?
In 2014, the top 5 countries of origin for asylum applications were Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Serbia & Kosovo and Eritrea. These are countries with poor human rights or political conflict. (UNHCR Asylum Trends 2014)
A 2010 study by the Refugee Council found that over two thirds of refugees did not choose to come to the UK. Refugees who did choose to come to the UK came mostly because of family, language, colonial connections, and a sense that the UK is democratic and tolerant country. They had little knowledge of the asylum process and the benefits available. A 2011 study conducted by the Refugee Council, found that 82% of Brits feel that protecting the most vulnerable is a core British value.
The UK has an international obligation to protect refugees. The Refugee Convention – which outlines international obligations to protect those fleeing war, torture and oppression – was drafted following the Holocaust in the wake of the persecution and death of millions of innocent people. To date, no country has repealed their commitment to welcome refugees.
Is it easy to get asylum in the UK?
In 2014, 59% of initial decisions were refusals. These initial decisions are often appealed (around 75%), and of these 28% of appeals were allowed. [UNHCR]. The high rate of successful appeals indicates problems at the point of decision making.
In some countries, such as Switzerland and Finland, over 70% of applications succeed. (UNHCR Statistical Yearbook 2010). This doesn’t mean most people in the UK have no claim, it just means our system is harder. When a woman who has suffered domestic violence and threats of honour killing or FGM from her family, she may be deported back to another part of her homeland. Her claim was not fraudulent, because it did not fit into the strict UN 1951 definition, but her deportation is a personal tragedy.
It is difficult to provide evidence that you have been persecuted. People with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) often experience problems recalling details for their claim and have their credibility questioned as a result.
Do asylum-seekers get priority for housing?
Whilst they are waiting for a decision on their claim, asylum-seekers are housed as part of a system that is separate from Council housing. These are usually ‘hard to let’ properties and the standard is often very poor. Single asylum-seekers are allocated a room in a shared house with others from different cultures and speaking different languages. Sometimes they have to share a room with a stranger. Asylum-seekers are not allowed to work so rely on government benefits (and again, asylum benefits are part of a separate system to the benefits a UK citizen would receive).
If someone’s asylum case is refused and their appeal rights have been exhausted, they will be evicted and their benefits cut (unless they have children under 18). This happens even when they cannot return home for a range of reasons.
If someone gets refugee status, they have 28 days to find alternative accommodation, before their asylum benefits are cut and they are required to leave their house. They must enter the Council housing system if they want to apply for a Council house. At the same time, they may be applying for normal UK benefits. Many find themselves homeless and destitute at this time as they try to get paperwork in order.
How do the benefits an asylum-seeker gets compare to a UK citizen?
A single asylum seeker gets just over £5 a day (£36.96 a week) to pay for all food, travel, clothing, toiletries and all other expenses excluding housing and fuel bills. That’s 50% of the income support a British citizen is entitled to. It has been calculated that £45 (70% of Income Support) is the bare minimum that asylum seekers need to meet their essential living needs. Children’s benefits were cut in August 2015, which plunged asylum seeking families to 50% below the poverty line.
On Section 4 (a type of asylum support), this money is paid onto a card which can only be used in the four major supermarkets, Boots and Peacocks. There is no cash payment. The card cannot be used for bus travel, phone calls, haircuts, shoe repairs and many other things and is not accepted in many smaller, local shops, charity shops and market stalls.
Are asylum-seekers and refugees a drain on the UK economy?
Almost all asylum seekers are forbidden from working. If an asylum-seeker is recognised as a refugee, they are allowed to work.
Immigrants, including refugees, pay more into the public purse compared to people born in the UK (Institute for Public Policy Research, Paying their way: the fiscal contribution of immigrants in the UK, 2005). Immigrant entrepreneurs set up 1 in 7 companies and create 14% of jobs in the UK.
An estimated 30,000 jobs have been created in Leicester by Ugandan Asian refugees since 1972. (The Observer, They fled with nothing but built a new empire, 11 August 2002)
About 1,200 medically qualified refugees are recorded on the British Medical Association’s database. (BMA/Refugee Council refugee doctor database – March 2010). It is estimated that it costs around £25,000 to support a refugee doctor to practise in the UK. Training a new doctor is estimated to cost over £250,000. (Reaping the rewards: re-training refugee healthcare professionals for the NHS, October 2009 NHSEmployers, BMA Jan 2013)
Children seeking asylum contribute very positively to schools across the country. This in turn enables more successful integration of families into local communities. (Office for Standards in Education, The education of asylum seeker pupils, 2003)
Famous refugees include Mo Farah (long distance runner), Michael Marks (one of the founders of Marks and Spencer), Sir Montague Burton (founder of Burton Retail), Alek Wek (supermodel), Rita Ora (singer), Sir Alec Issigonis (designer of the Mini), Sigmund Freud (founder of psychoanalysis), Albert Einstein (scientist), Victor Hugo (author), Karl Marx, the Dalai Lama, Bob Marley (singer), Prince Philip, Jesus, Anne Frank, Jackie Chan (actor).
If asylum-seekers are refused, why don’t they go home?
Many refused asylum seekers cannot return home through no fault of their own. This may be because there is no safe travel route back to their country, their Government refuses to provide them with documents or they are too ill to travel.
Just because an applicant has been refused asylum. it also doesn’t mean that it’s safe for them to return. Many asylum seekers have been denied protection in the UK even though the Courts ruled that it is too dangerous for them to be sent back. This leaves them in limbo, without status, but unable to return home. Refused asylum seekers who cannot return home find themselves destitute and vulnerable to exploitation with no right to work or support.
For information about the Refugee Crisis in Europe – summer 2015 see this Power Point presentation here.