Home > About Us > The UK and Asylum  

The Facts: Asylum in the UK

An Ethiopian refugee family who came to the UK in 2006.

What is the difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker?

What are refugees?

A refugee is a person 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'

What is an asylum seeker?

An asylum seeker is someone who has applied for asylum and is waiting for a decision as to whether or not they are a refugee. In other words, in the UK an asylum seeker is someone who has asked the Government for refugee status and is waiting to hear the outcome of their application.

Does the UK have more asylum seekers than most countries?

No it does not. With an estimated 173,100 asylum applications, Germany was the largest recipient of new asylum claims in 2014. The United States of America was second with 121,200 asylum applications, followed by Turkey (87,800), Sweden (75,100), and Italy (63,700). By comparison, the UK received 31,300 new applications for asylum by the end of 2014.

(Source: UNHCR 2014 Asylum Trends Report)

How many refugees are there in the UK?

At the end of 2014, the population of refugees, pending asylum cases and stateless persons made up just 0.24% of the population. That’s 117,161 refugees, 36,383 pending asylum cases and 16 stateless persons.

The vast majority of refugees stay in their region of displacement, so that 86% of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries. Turkey now hosts the highest number of refugees at 1.6million, followed by Pakistan at 1.5million

(Source: UNHCR 2014 Global Trends Report)

Where do asylum seekers in the UK come from?

The top three countries of origin are: Eritrea (3,568), Pakistan (2,302), and Syria (2,204), 

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 £36.95 per person, per week, which makes it £5.28 a day for food, sanitation and clothing.

(Source: Home Office)

What is detention?

In the UK, thousands of asylum seekers are held in immigration detention centres each year. Under the Detained Fast Track (DFT), asylum seekers are detained for the duration of their application and appeal. As a principle, UNHCR opposes the detention of people seeking asylum, and calls for the use of alternatives wherever possible. 

In 2012, of 21,843 main applicants for asylum, 11.4% (2,482) applicants were detained under DFT. In 2011, 10.7% of asylum claims were accepted onto DFT. 

In 2013, 203 children were detained in immigration removal centres, with 155 being under the age of 11. 

(Source: Home Office Asylum Data Tables January to March 2014)

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.

Download the PDF: What are refugees? What is a bogus asylum seeker?


Download a myth-busting PDF

What is the difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker? How many refugees are there in the UK?

Click for the global facts and figures on refugees and displacement

Global Facts and Figures on Refugees

How many refugees are there in the world? What are IDPs? In how many countries is UNHCR present?