Here are some useful facts about Refugees and people seeking asylum in the UK.
What is a Refugee?
The 1951 UN Refugee Convention (known as the Geneva Convention) defines what a refugee is, what rights a refugee has, and the responsibilities of states towards refugees.
The definition of a refugee is 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 to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country” (Article 1, 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees).
Being recognised as a refugee gives you the right to not to be returned to the country you have fled, as well as a minimum standard of rights and freedoms in a safe country.
What is an asylum seeker?
An asylum seeker is someone who has applied for refugee status (or another form of international protection) in another country and is waiting on a decision for their application. A person can only apply for asylum once they physically reach a country.
In the UK, people seeking asylum do not have the same rights as a refugee or a British citizen, for example, they aren’t allowed to work.
The right to seek asylum is a legal right we all share. It isn’t illegal to seek asylum, because seeking asylum is a legal process. It also isn’t illegal to be refused asylum – it just means you haven’t been able to meet the very strict criteria to prove your need for protection as a refugee.
Do people have to claim asylum in the first safe country they reach?
No. Neither the 1951 Refugee Convention, nor EU law requires a person to claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. People trying to cross the Channel can legitimately claim asylum in the UK if they reach it.
The Dublin Regulation is a system which allows one EU country to require another to accept responsibility for a person who has claimed asylum when specific conditions apply, including that the person is shown to have previously made a claim of asylum in another EU country. The intention is that asylum claims are then shared more evenly between EU countries.
The Dublin system only operates within the EU and it will almost certainly cease to apply to the UK following Brexit.
Channel crossings and the right to claim asylum
Stories of desperate people crossing the channel to reach the UK have dominated news and social media recently. We cannot know the story of every person trying to reach the UK and what they have been through, but it is clear that many of them intend to claim asylum here.
Every person risking their life to cross the channel in a dinghy needs to be shown humanity. They have been through hell and are making desperate, dangerous decisions to reach safety. We need to create safe routes to apply for asylum here to prevent more desperate people risking their lives to access the fundamental human right of seeking asylum.
How many asylum applications were there in the UK this year?
In the year ending June 2020, there were 32,423 applications for asylum made in the UK. That is a tiny percentage of people arriving in the UK from outside the EEA.
In year ending June 2020, the top five nationalities of people seeking asylum were Iran, Albania, Iraq, Eritrea and Pakistan.