Frequently asked questions for asylum seekers and refugees in the UK
1) How do I claim asylum in the UK?
Although in other countries in the world UNHCR recognises and registers refugees, it is not UNHCR UK’s role to determine who is and who is not granted asylum in the UK. It is the responsibility of the United Kingdom (UK) Home Office (HO), to receive and decide applications for asylum in this country under the terms of the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. Accordingly, applications for asylum should be submitted directly to the UK HO. This would usually only be possible for a person who is already in the UK.
For more information on how to claim asylum in the UK, please refer to the website of the HO, which is available online at - www.gov.uk/browse/visas-immigration/asylum. As you will note from the HO website, there is a web page entitled 'Claiming Asylum' in the UK - www.gov.uk/claim-asylum.
2) Can UNHCR give me legal advice?
Unfortunately, due to limited resources and the nature of our role in the UK, UNHCR UK cannot provide legal advice. Legal representation and advice to asylum seekers is provided through private solicitors or through specialised agencies that may be able to provide their services free of charge under the Legal Aid scheme.
Once instructed, your legal representatives may contact UNHCR UK if they consider it necessary, in order to request assistance on specific issues and they should provide any relevant supporting documentation on the case, when doing so.
Asylum Aid’s advice line is: 020 7354 9264.
The phone line operates on Tuesdays, 1-4 pm.
For information about other law firms in your area who may be able to provide asylum and immigration advice under the Legal Aid scheme, please search:
• If you are in England or Wales: the Law Society website: www.lawsociety.org.uk/choosingandusing/findasolicitor.law
• If you are in Scotland: the Law Society of Scotland website: www.lawscot.org.uk/wcm/lssservices/find_a_solicitor/Core/directory.aspx
• If you are in Northern Ireland: the Law Society of Northern Ireland website: www.lawsoc-ni.org/solicitors-directory/
You may also want to search the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) Adviser finder database, available at www.gov.uk/find-an-immigration-adviser
Alternatively, contact Civil Legal Advice on 0845 345 4 345 or visit their website on www.gov.uk/civil-legal-advice.
In addition, there are organisations specialising in designated areas of work. For example, the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG) specialise in assisting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals (LGBTI) and their details are:
A: 32-36 Loman Street, Southwark, London SE1 0EH
T: 020 7922 7811 (operates on Monday to Friday, during office hours)
3) I'm in detention, can UNHCR help me?
Unfortunately, UNHCR is very limited in the help that we can provide to detainees. If you have fully exhausted your application for asylum in the UK and are in detention awaiting removal to your country of origin, we regret that UNHCR is unlikely to be able to assist you at this stage.
From 15 November 2010, Legal Aid Agency announced a new arrangement in the provision of legal services for detainees at Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs). The eight detention centres affected by this arrangement are: Brook House, Campsfield, Colnbrook, Harmondsworth, Haslar, Tinsley House, Yarls Wood and Morton Hall.
If you are detained in one of the above mentioned centres, you can instruct legal advice exclusively from a firm which has a contract with the centre where you are detained. You will be able to book yourself to attend an on-site advice surgery and each centre has its own procedure for scheduling. You can also refer yourself directly to a provider which has a contract for the centre where you are detained; however there may be limited capacity by which a firm can take on a case outside of the scheduled surgeries.
The legal service providers covering the nine detention centres are as follows:
Onsite Detention Surgeries
The Verne: Duncan Lewis, Fadiga & Co, Halliday Reeves, Thompson & Co.
Please note that there are no arrangement in the provision of legal services for Dungavel House (Scotland), and Pennine House. However, legal aid advice provision is available through any local or regional legal aid solicitor who the detainee is able to contact and instruct.
Fast Track Scheme
Please note that since the 26th June 2015, the Detained Fast Track appeals process for asylum-seekers in detention is suspended.
For more information about the exclusive schedule arrangements, please refer to the Legal Aid Agency webpage.
You can apply for bail at any stage in the detention process. For advice and guidance on how to do this please contact Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) who run a telephone advice line and can also provide an information pack so that you can represent yourself at bail application hearings. You may also wish to ask to see someone from your detention centre’s visitors group - if there is one – who may be able to provide you with appropriate advice and support.
Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID)
BID London office: for all general queries and detainees (except those held at the centres listed below)
1b Finsbury Park Road, London, N4 2LA
T: 020 7456 9750 (please call between 10 am to 12 pm Monday to Thursday - outside of these times please leave a message)
F: 020 3745 5226
BID South office (Portsmouth): for detainees at Colnbrook, Dover and Haslar
T: 023 9281 6633
F: 023 9282 1529
BID Oxford office: for detainees at Campsfield House and Brook House
T: 01865 200 357 (phones are open on Tuesday to Friday - please call between 10am and 4 pm)
F: 01865 793 009
Medical Justice (www.medicaljustice.org.uk) - facilitates the provision of independent medical advice and independent legal advice and representation to asylum seekers detained in immigration removal centres. Contact Medical Justice by telephoning on 0207 561 7498, faxing 08450 529370 or emailing email@example.com
Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees (AVID) - have 20 member groups throughout the UK, representing over 400 volunteer visitors who give up their time to provide essential support and practical help to immigration detainees. For more information, please see AVID’s website (www.aviddetention.org.uk) or telephone 0207 354 9631 (ext. 222) or 07900 196 131.
4) Can UNHCR help me to resettle?
Refugee resettlement involves the transfer of refugees from the country in which they have initially been granted asylum to another State that has agreed to admit them as refugees and to grant permanent settlement there. In order to enquire further about resettlement to the UK or another resettlement State, the appropriate UNHCR office to approach is your nearest UNHCR office. If an individual has, for example, relatives in the UK then that individual should obtain copies of their UK relatives’ identification documentation and bring them to the attention of the UNHCR office registered with. In line with their standard operating procedures, UNHCR offices that register individuals for refugee status determination will also consider whether or not that individual is eligible for resettlement to a third country, such as the UK. Whether a refugee may be resettled also depends on the admission criteria of the third State as well as the cooperation of the country of initial asylum. Resettlement is not a right, and there is no obligation on States to accept refugees for resettlement.
For further general information on resettlement please see UNHCR’s resettlement webpage. UNHCR also has specific frequently asked questions about resettlement (www.unhcr.org/4ac0873d6.html). UNHCR identifies individuals for resettlement in accordance with the criteria defined in the Resettlement Handbook.
i) Resettlement to the UK?
Please also see the UK Country Chapter to the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook – available online atwww.unhcr.org/40ee6fc04.pdf
There are also various immigration rules under which persons can apply to relocate to the UK. For advice on this matter, please contact your local British Embassy. A list of British Embassies around the world can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/foreign-commonwealth-office
ii) Resettlement to a third country from the UK?
There is no resettlement programme to a third country from the UK. If an individual is interested in making an application to relocate to another country from the UK, s/he and/or their legal representative should contact the diplomatic mission of the third country concerned directly. Please kindly note that UNHCR UK does not and cannot provide a referral to any individual seeking relocation from the UK despite the advice you may receive from some diplomatic missions to the contrary.
5) Can UNHCR help me be reunited with my family?
In the UK, the normal procedure for family reunification allows recognised refugees (and those granted Humanitarian Protection on or after 30 August 2005) in the UK to reunite with their existing immediate (nuclear) family inside the UK, where family members are located outside of the UK.
In other words, a refugee or someone granted Humanitarian Protection is entitled to be reunited in the UK with his or her spouse / civil partner and dependent children (under the age of 18 years). Furthermore, in order to benefit from the family reunification provisions spouses / civil partners should be in a subsisting relationship and so should intend to live together.
Applications for family reunification can also be submitted where a refugee (or those granted Humanitarian Protection on or after 30 August 2005) wishes to be reunited with his or her extended family (i.e. someone who is neither their spouse / civil partner nor their minor children). However, the UK-based sponsoring relative must pay an application fee and also show that they have the finances to maintain and accommodate family members.
Other immigration categories (such as those with Discretionary Leave) and British citizens seeking family reunification with their nuclear family must pay an application fee and are required to satisfy more stringent requirements, such as evidencing the finances to maintain and accommodate family members.
However, all individuals in the UK wishing to be reunited with family abroad should seek specialist legal advice; preferably from a UK-based advisor (see Question 2 above).
You may also like to consider contacting the nearest office of the British Red Cross (www.redcross.org.uk/What-we-do/Refugee-services/Our-services-for-refugees andwww.redcross.org.uk/Where-we-work/In-the-UK) and / or the nearest Citizens Advice Bureau.
Before contacting UNHCR UK in relation to family reunion matters, please ensure that your legal representative puts their advice to you in writing.
For more information on family reunion in the UK, please refer to HO's web page, and general visa application guidance is available here. For a 'Guide to visa processing times' please see -www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/visas-immigration/general-info/processing-times.
HO's family reunion policy guidance is also available here and the HO's Entry Clearance Guidance (SET10) on family reunion is available at www.gov.uk/government/publications/family-reunion-set10-see-also-post-flight-family-members-set18 (as well as (SET18)). The relevant application form (VAF4A) is also available online at - www.gov.uk/government/publications/application-for-uk-visa-for-family-settlement-form-vaf4a.
The British Red Cross Refugee Unit orientation service provides short-term support to help vulnerable and newly arrived refugees adapt to life in a new country. Since many of their trained volunteers are refugees themselves, they speak a wide range of languages and can offer valuable support and advice. For more information on refugee services in the following areas, please call the contact numbers listed below:
• East Anglia: 01733 557472
• East Midlands: 0116 271 0359
• London: 0207 704 5670
• North West: 0161 888 8932
• Scotland: 0141 331 4170
• Wales: 01792 772 146
• West Midlands: 0121 7665444
International tracing and message services
The Red Cross works worldwide to help restore and maintain contact between those separated by conflict or disaster. Their relevant contact details in the UK are:
To find your local Red Cross office, please go here.
6) I want to return to my home country. What should I do?
If you are considering returning to your country of origin, you can seek advice and assistance from the Central Voluntary Departure team at the Home Office to facilitate your return. This service is available for asylum seekers, refused asylum seekers and irregular migrants, but is unavailable to those who are in detention.
Their contact details are:
T: 0300 004 0202
F: 0870 336 9544
Operating hours: Monday to Friday, 9am – 5:30pm
You may also email the teams:
firstname.lastname@example.org - if planning a voluntary departure from the UK and help is needed with a travel document or cost of flight but there is no requirement for any special assistance.
AssistedVoluntaryReturns@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk - if planning a voluntary departure from the UK which requires special assistance which may include help with medical needs or reintegration into the country of return.
Further information can be found on the website: www.gov.uk/return-home-voluntarily/who-can-get-help
7) Where can I get non-legal assistance?
UNHCR recommends contacting the following organisations for advice on accessing non-legal support and assistance in integrating into the wider community. They are also able to provide information in a number of languages.
For asylum advice, please contact Asylum Help:
Asylum Help can provide information and support to assist you through the asylum process.
• Asylum Helpline (Advice): 0808 8000 630
• Asylum Helpline (Support Applications): 0808 8000 631
Operates Monday to Friday, 8.30am – 7pm
For more information on asylum advice, please visit - www.gov.uk/government/news/advice-services-for-asylum-seekers-and-refugees-contract-change and - www.gov.uk/one-stop-services.
A: Refugee Action Head Office, Refugee Action, Victoria Charity Centre, 11 Belgrave Road, London SW1V 1RB
T: 020 7952 1511
British Refugee Council (England)
Scottish Refugee Council
Welsh Refugee Council
Cardiff office: Phoenix House, 389 Newport Road, Cardiff CF24 1TP
T: 029 2048 9800
Newport office: High Street Chambers, 51 High Street, Newport NP20 1GB
Swansea office: Third Floor Grove House, Grove Place, Swansea SA1 5DF
Wrexham office: 33, Grovesnor Road, Wrexham L11 1BT
All offices’ email: email@example.com
All offices’ website: www.welshrefugeecouncil.org
Freedom from Torture
A: 111 Isledon Road, Islington, London N7 7JW
T: 020 7697 7777
F: 020 7697 7799
The Helen Bamber Foundation
(By referral only)
A: Bruges Place, 15-20 Baynes Street, London NW1 0TF
T: 020 3058 2020
F: 020 3058 2050
A: 86 Durham Road, London N7 7DT
T: 020 7561 7498
F: 08450 529370
Praxis Community Projects
(Face to face advice sessions for: Housing Tuesday 10am- 12.30pm, Welfare benefits Thursday 10am- 12.30pm, Immigration Friday 10am- 12.30pm)
Telephone Advice Service: 0207 749 7680
Open hours: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 2pm- 4pm.
A: Pott Street, London E2 0EF
T: 020 7729 7985
F: 020 7729 0134
(Walk-in medical clinic open Mon, Wed, Fri 1-5pm)
A: Pott Street, London E2 0EF
T: 020 8123 6614 or 07974 616852
Eaves (The Poppy Project)
T: 020 7735 2062
The Salvation Army
(Provides assistance on trafficking, family tracing, homelessness)
A: 101 Newington Causeway, London, SE1 6BN
T: 020 7367 4500
(Provides assistance to survivors of torture and related international crimes)
A: 87,Vauxhall Walk, London SE11 5HJ
T: 020 7793 1777
(Advice and support to persons experiencing mental health problems)
T: 0300 123 3393 (operates Monday to Friday, 9am- 6pm)
8) Further information
For further links to numerous helpful organisations please see our useful links page.
UNHCR UK hopes that this information is useful to you.