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Frequently Asked Questions

1) How do I claim asylum in the UK?

2) Can UNHCR give me legal advice?

3) I'm in detention, can UNHCR help me?

4) Can UNHCR help me to resettle?

5) Can UNHCR help me be reunited with my family?

6) I want to return to my home country. What should I do?

7) Where can I get non-legal assistance?

8) Further Information

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 London’s role in the UK 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 UKBA: www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/asylum. As you will note from the HO website, there are web pages entitled 'Claiming Asylum in the UK' (www.bia.homeoffice.gov.uk/asylum/claimingasylum) as well as 'Asylum Process in the UK' (www.bia.homeoffice.gov.uk/asylum/process). There is also a web page on 'How to claim asylum in the UK' (www.bia.homeoffice.gov.uk/asylum/claimingasylum/howtoclaim).

2) Can UNHCR give me legal advice? 

Unfortunately, due to limited resources and the nature of our role in the UK, UNHCR London 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 London 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.

Specialised Agencies

Asylum Aid

Telephone number: 020 7354 9264

Website: www.asylumaid.org.uk

Email: info@asylumaid.org.uk

Asylum Aid also hold special sessions on:

Trafficking and domestic violence: Tuesdays 1pm - 3pm and Thursdays 10.30am -12.30pm

Statelessness: Tuesdays 3pm - 4pm

Please call in advance to book an appointment.


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 the Law Society websites: 

England and Wales find-legal-advice.justice.gov.uk

Scotland www.lawscot.org.uk/wcm/lssservices/find_a_solicitor/Core/directory.aspx

Alternatively, contact Civil Legal Advice on 0845 345 4 345 or visit their website at 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 OEH

T: 020 7922 7811 (operates on Monday to Friday, during office hours)

W: www.uklgig.org.uk 

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, the Legal Services Commission announced a new arrangement in the provision of legal services for detainees at Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs). The ten detention centres affected by this arrangement are: Brook House, Campsfield, Colnbrook, Dover, Harmondsworth, Haslar, Lindholme, 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

Brook House: Duncan Lewis, Lawrence Lupin Solicitors

Campsfield: Duncan Lewis, Turpin Miller Solicitors, Lawrence Lupin Solicitors

Colnbrook: Duncan Lewis, Fadiga & Co, Wilson Solicitors LLP

Dover: Duncan Lewis, Howe & Co

Harmondsworth: Duncan Lewis, Fadiga & Co, Wilson Solicitors LLP

Haslar: Duncan Lewis, Howe & Co, Chartwell & Sadlers Solicitors

Lindholme: Fadiga & Co, Halliday Reeves Law Firm, 

Tinsley House: Duncan Lewis, Lawrence Lupin Solicitors, 

Yarls Wood: Duncan Lewis, Fadiga & Co, Wilson Solicitors LLP

Morton Hall: Thompson & Co, Duncan Lewis & Co, Fadiga & Co, Community Law Clinic Solicitors

Fast Track Scheme

Harmondsworth: Duncan Lewis, Fadiga & Co, Lawrence Lupin Solicitors, Thompson & Co, Wilson Solicitors LLP, Howe & Co

Yarls Wood: Duncan Lewis, Fadiga & Co, Lawrence Lupin Solicitors, Wilson Solicitors LLP, Thompson & Co, Howe & Co

For more information about the exclusive schedule arrangements, please refer to the Legal Services Commission webpage - www.legalservices.gov.uk/civil/immigration/5527.asp#Legal_Services_For

You can apply for bail at any stage in the detention process and you can make as many bail applications as you wish.  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)

28 Commercial Street, London E1 6LS

T: 020 7247 3590 (please call between 10 am to 12 pm Monday to Thursday - outside of these times please leave a message)

F: 020 7247 3550

E: enquiries@biduk.org

W: www.biduk.org

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 Lindholme

T: 0845 3304 536 (phones are open on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday - please call between 1.30 and 4.30 pm)

F: 0845 3304 537

Bail Circle - is a network of volunteers willing to act as ‘sureties' to enable a detained asylum seeker to obtain bail. Please telephone the Bail Circle Administrator on: 020 7654 7241 or email: bail.circle@ctbi.org.uk

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 info@medicaljustice.org.uk

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 (www.unhcr.org/pages/4a16b1676.html). 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 (www.unhcr.org/4a2ccf4c6.html).

   i) Resettlement to the UK?

For more information on resettlement to the UK, please refer to the HO website - www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/documents/policyandlaw/asylumpolicyinstructions/ 

(Scroll down and click on ‘Gateway Protection Programme’ and / or ‘Mandate Refugees’)

Please also see the UK Country Chapter to the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook – available online at www.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 www.fco.gov.uk


   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 London 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? 

The normal procedure for family reunification in the UK allows recognised refugees (and those granted Humanitarian Protection on or after 30 August 2005) in the UK to reunite with their immediate (nuclear) family in 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 and www.redcross.org.uk/Where-we-work/In-the-UK) and / or the nearest Citizens Advice Bureau (www.citizensadvice.org.uk/index/getadvice.html). 

Before contacting UNHCR London 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 the HO's web-page: www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/partnersandfamilies/familyreunion/

General visa application guidance is available at: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/visas-immigration/general-info/

Guide to visa processing times, please see: www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/visas-immigration/general-info/processing-times/

HO's family reunion guidance policy is also available at: www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/documents/policyandlaw/asylumprocessguidance/specialcases/guidance/familyreunion.pdf?view=Binary

HO's Entry Clearance Guidance (SET10) on family reunion: www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/policyandlaw/guidance/ecg/set/set10/

(SET18): www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/policyandlaw/guidance/ecg/set/set18/

Relevant application form (VAF4A) is available online atwww.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/applicationforms/visas/12-other-visas


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: 0845 0547171

• London: 020 7704 5692

• 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:

British Red Cross

Address: Aztec Row, 5 Berners Road, London,  N1 0PW

Telephone: 020 7704 5686

Email: londonitms@redcross.org.uk

Website: www.redcross.org.uk


6) I want to return to my home country. What should I do?

If you are considering returning voluntarily to your country of origin, you can apply for advice and assistance to facilitate your return. This service is available to:

• asylum seekers and failed asylum seekers

• families and children

• irregular migrants

All casework relating to assisted voluntary returns is processed by Refugee Action who provide:

• Confidential advice and information

• Assistance with travel documents and other practicalities

• Referral to other services if you decide not to return

• Reintegration planning, assistance and support before and after your return

• Feedback from other returnees in countries of return

Refugee Action (Choices Service)

T: 0808 800 0007

E: choices@refugee-action.org.uk

W: www.refugee-action.org (web page- www.refugee-action.org.uk/ourwork/assistedvoluntaryreturn.aspx )

London:  Victoria Charity Centre, 11 Belgrave Road, London, SW1V 1RB

T: 020 7952 1510

Leeds:  16 Lower Brunswick Street, Leeds, LS2 7PU

T: 0113 302 3050

Manchester: 23-27 Edge Street, Manchester, M4 1HW

T: 0161 441 4141 (or free phone on: 0800 917 2719)

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.

Refugee Action

Refugee Action Head Office, Refugee Action, Victoria Charity Centre, 11 Belgrave Road, London, SW1V 1RB 

Tel: 020 7952 1511 

E: info@refugee-action.org.uk 

W: www.refugee-action.org 

British Refugee Council (England)

Telephone Advice Service

T: 0808 808 2255

Open hours: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 9:30pm- 1pm and 2pm- 4:30pm; Wednesday 2pm- 5pm

E: info@refugeecouncil.org.uk  

W: www.refugeecouncil.org.uk  

They have information in several languages

Scottish Refugee Council

Telephone Advice Service

T: 0800 085 6087

E: info@scottishrefugeecouncil.org.uk 

W: www.scottishrefugeecouncil.org.uk/ 

Welsh Refugee Council

Cardiff Office T: 029 2048 9800

Open hours: Monday: 9.30-12.30 and 14.00-16.00, Tuesday: 9.30-12.30 and 14.00-16.00, Wednesday: 9.30-12.30, Thursday: 9.30-12.30 and 14.00-16.00; and Friday 9.30-12.30.

Newport Office T: 01633266420

Swansea office T: 01792630180

Wrexham office: T: 01978367890

All offices’ email: info@welshrefugeecouncil.org 

All offices’ website: www.welshrefugeecouncil.org 

Freedom from Torture

111 Isledon Road, Islington, London, N7 7JW

T: 020 7697 7777 

F: 020 7697 7799

W: www.freedomfromtorture.org/ 


The Helen Bamber Foundation

(By referral only)

5 Museum House, 25 Museum Street, London, WC1A 1JT

E: info@helenbamber.org

T: 020 7631 4492

F: 020 7631 4493

W: www.helenbamber.org 

Medical Justice

86 Durham Road, London, N7 7DT

T: 020 7561 7498

F: 08450 529370

E: info@medicaljustice.org.uk

W: www.medicaljustice.org.uk 

Praxis Community Projects 

(Advice session open Mon, Wed, Fri 10-1pm; Provides advice on housing, legal issues, immigration)

Pott Street, London E2 0EF

T: 020 7729 7985 

F: 020 7729 0134

E: admin@praxis.org.uk 

Project London

(Walk-in medical clinic open Mon, Wed, Fri 1-5pm)

Pott Street, London, E2 0EF

T: 020 8123 6614 or 07974 616852

Eaves (The Poppy Project)

T: 020 7735 2062

E: post@eavesforwomen.org.uk 

W: www.eavesforwomen.org.uk/about-eaves/our-projects/the-poppy-project

8) Further Information

For further links to numerous helpful organisations please see our website- www.unhcr.org.uk/what-we-do-in-the-uk/protecting-refugees/links.html 

UNHCR London hopes that this information is useful to you.


Contact Us



UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency)


Strand Bridge House


138 - 142 Strand






Tel: 020 7759 8090


Fax: 020 7759 8119


Email: gbrlo@unhcr.org