Asylum in the UK

Does the UK have more asylum-seekers than most countries?

No, it does not. In 2021, the UK received 48,540 asylum applications from main applicants only. This is 63% more than the previous year and the highest number for almost two decades. This is likely linked in part to the easing of global travel restrictions that were in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and to a sharp increase in small boat arrivals to the UK, of which almost all claim asylum.

Iran was the top nationality claiming asylum in the UK in 2021 (9,800 applications), as it has been in every year since 2016.

In the year ending September 2021, EU+ (EU, EEA and Switzerland) countries have seen a 4% fall in asylum applications, receiving 418,495 first time asylum applications from non-EU citizens. The top nationalities of people applying for asylum were Syrian (75,615), Afghan (49,905), Venezuelan (19,235), Colombian (18,160), Pakistani (17,960), Iraqi (16,420), and Turkish (13,845).

In the year ending September 2021, Germany received the highest number of asylum applicants (127,730) in the EU+, followed by France (96,510). When compared with the EU+, the UK received the 4th largest number of applicants (44, 190 – including main applicants and dependents). This equates to 8% of the total asylum applicants across the EU+ and UK combined over that period, or the 18th largest intake when measured per head of population.

Germany, France, Spain and Italy accounted for around 70% of all first-time applicants in the EU-27. These figures include all asylum applicants, not just main applicants (i.e. including  children and other dependents). World-wide around  85%  of all refugees live in developing regions , not in wealthy industrialised countries, and 73% of refugees displaced abroad live in countries neighbouring their countries of origin.

(Source:  Home Office,  EuroStat)

How many refugees are there in the UK?

According to UNHCR statistics, as of mid-2021 there were 135,912 refugees, 83,489 pending asylum cases and 3,968  stateless persons  in the UK. The vast majority of refugees – 4 out of 5 – stay in their region of displacement, and consequently are hosted by developing countries. Turkey now hosts the highest number of refugees with 3.7 million, followed by Colombia with 1.7 million.

(Source:  UNHCR 2021 Mid-Year Trends  Report)

Where do asylum-seekers in the UK come from?

Amongst adults, Iran was the top nationality claiming asylum in the UK in 2021, as it has been every year since 2016, with 9,800 applications.

In the year ending September 2021, the top five countries of nationality for asylum applications (from main applicants) were:  Iran  (6,002), Eritrea  (4,412) Albania  (4.010),  Iraq (3,042) and Syria (2,303).

(Source:  Immigration statistics, year ending September 2021)

What is a bogus asylum-seeker?  

There is no such thing as a bogus asylum-seeker or an illegal asylum-seeker. As an asylum-seeker, a person has entered into a legal process of refugee status determination. Everybody has a right to seek asylum in another country. People who don't qualify for protection as refugees will not receive refugee status and may be deported, but just because someone doesn't receive refugee status doesn't mean they are a bogus asylum-seeker. 

Let us remember that a bogus asylum-seeker is not equivalent to a criminal; and that an unsuccessful asylum application is not equivalent to a bogus one Kofi Annan

What benefits do asylum-seekers receive in the UK?

The majority of asylum-seekers do not have the right to work in the United Kingdom and so must rely on state support.

Housing is provided, but asylum-seekers cannot choose where it is, and it is often ‘hard to let’ properties which Council tenants do not want to live in.

Cash support is available, and is currently set at £39.63 per person, per week, which makes it £5.64 a day for food, sanitation and clothing.

(Source: Home Office)

How many refugees have been resettled to the UK?

Resettlement is the transfer of refugees from a country where they have initially sought asylum - often in the same region as their country of origin - to a third state which has agreed to admit them. It is a life-changing durable solution for refugees whose life, liberty, health, or human rights are at risk in their country of refuge, or for whom relocating to another country is their only hope of being reunited with their family. 

Refugees can be resettled to the UK via the Mandate Scheme, the UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS) Community Sponsorship Scheme and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS).

1,587 people were granted protection through resettlement schemes in 2021. This is 93% higher than in the previous year, when resettlement paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

71% were resettled through the UK Resettlement scheme (UKRS), 20% through the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme and Vulnerable Children Resettlement Scheme (both of which closed at the end of February 2021), and the remainder through the Mandate Scheme and Community Sponsorship schemes.

The most common nationalities of those resettled were Syrian (76%), Iraqi (8%) and Sudanese (3%).

Since the first arrivals under the new Resettlement scheme in March 2021, 1,131 refugees have been resettled in the UK via the UKRS. Find out more about resettlement here.

What is subsidiary or humanitarian protection?

Subsidiary protection can be given to people who do not meet the 1951 Convention’s legal definition of a refugee but are still in need of international protection.

Across the EU, the Qualification Directive provides subsidiary protection for those facing the following threats if returned to their country: (1) the death penalty or execution; (2) torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; or (3) threats from an international or internal armed conflict.

The UK uses the legal term humanitarian protection to meet this Directive. Applicants can also be given ‘discretionary leave to remain’, a form of temporary permission which is unlikely to be more than three years.

Can refugees reunite with their families in the UK?

Yes. In certain circumstances refugees in the UK are permitted to reunite with family members who are living elsewhere. 

In 2021, 6,134 Family reunion visas were issued to partners and children of those granted asylum or humanitarian protection in the UK.

However, current rules are restrictive for refugees applying to reunite with family members in the UK. This is due to a narrow definition of who qualifies as a family member, restrictions on refugee children being able to reunite with their parents,  and a lack of legal support for refugee family reunion applications. 

Find out more about the  #FamiliesTogether campaign.

Are there any asylum-seekers or refugees in detention in the UK?

In 2021, a total number of 24,497 individuals entered the detention estate, 65% more than the previous year. At the end of December 2021, there were a total of 1,179 people held in the detention estate. This is recorded by the Home Office as being up from 1033 when compared to March 2021. These figures must be viewed in the context of the Covid-19 Pandemic.

(Source:  Home Office How many people are detained or returned?)