Does Britain really take more asylum seekers and refugees than other countries?

Most people seek asylum in neighbouring countries and some of the poorest countries in the world support the largest number of refugees.  Over 70% of the world’s refugees are in developing countries with nearly one third of these in the 49 poorest countries in the world.

At the end of 2003 Europe hosted 25% of the world’s refugees with Britain ranking 9th (in the EU) in terms of applications per head of population.

Home Office figures show that the number of applications for asylum (excluding dependants) in the UK in the 4th quarter of 2004, 1 October to 31 December, totalled 8,465. This is 2% lower than the previous quarter (1 July to 31 August 2004) and 22% less than the 4th quarter of 2003.

A total of 33,930 applications were made during 2004 which is 32% lower than in 2003 when the total was 49,405

The media often refer to Britain as a soft touch for asylum seekers.  The UK’s determination process is by no means a “soft touch” for asylum seekers.  For
example, in 2001 Canada granted protection to 97% of Afghan, 92% of Somali and 85% of Colombian applicants.  In contrast, the UK granted protection to only 19% of Afghan, 34% of Somali and 3% of Colombian applicants.

Why should asylum seekers be allowed to receive benefits and free services?

Asylum seekers cannot claim mainstream welfare benefits including income support and Housing Benefit.  Those who meet a destitution test are supported by a Home Office department called the National Asylum Support Service (NASS).

The cost of supporting and housing asylum seekers does not come out of local Council Tax. The full costs of housing and supporting asylum seekers are paid by the Home Office direct to the Council, private housing providers, and asylum seekers (weekly cash payments – see below for amounts).

Since 23 July 2002 asylum seekers are not allowed to work until they are granted either refugee or humanitarian status.  This means they are dependent on government support.

Do asylum seekers get priority health care over local people?

Health authorities including Blackburn with Darwen do not prioritise asylum seekers over local people. Asylum seekers are entitled to register with a local GP and do receive most services from the NHS, but they must go through the same processes as everyone else.

Entitlement to NHS treatment

The amended regulations (Statutory Instrument 2004 No.614) came into force on 1st April 2004. The amended regulations mean that as from 1st April, asylum seekers at the end of the asylum process will have to pay for non urgent in-patient hospital care.  For the full text of the amended regulations visit: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2004/614/contents/made

For further information on entitlement to NHS treatment click here.

Why are people allowed to claim asylum in the UK?

The UK, along with over 130 other countries, is a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. The right to asylum was incorporated into UK law in 1993. This means that by law anyone has the right to apply for asylum in the UK and remain until a final decision on their application has been made.

The UK has an obligation under international law to:

  • not send any person back who may be in danger of persecution
  • protect people who are found to be refugees

The fact that an asylum seeker may have entered a country illegally does not necessarily mean that their case lacks credibility.  People fleeing persecution often have to resort to the use of false documents in order to leave their home country.  In recognition of this fact Article 31 of the 1951 Refugee Convention prohibits governments from penalising refugees who use false documents.

Sending asylum seekers back to persecution violates international human rights standards.  Article 33 of the UN Convention for Refugees prohibits the UK expelling or returning a refugee until their case is heard.

Do asylum seekers ever go back to their own country?

Many asylum seekers do return to their home country once the reasons that forced them to flee no longer exist. Many have had to leave good jobs, a decent standard of living, and their families and communities.

The majority of refugees prefer to return home as soon as circumstances permit, generally when a conflict has ended, a degree of stability has been restored and basic infrastructure has been rebuilt.

Some refugees cannot go home or are unwilling to do so, usually because they would face continued persecution.

The Voluntary Assisted Return and Reintegration Programme (VARRP)

The VARRP programme assists asylum seekers who wish to return to their home country but who do not have the means to do so.  Applicants to the programme may also apply for reintegration assistance.

Do asylum seekers get preferential treatment for social housing?

Asylum seekers are housed under separate arrangements, funded and administered centrally by the Home Office department called the National Asylum Support Service (NASS).  NASS has a contract with housing providers rather than tenancy agreements with asylum seekers, who are excluded from social housing lists.

Asylum seekers who are given housing support have no choice about where their accommodation is allocated.  They are dispersed across the UK with no choice about where they live.

Accommodation provided to asylum seekers is not better than that provided to UK nationals.

In summary, NASS requires the provision of:

  • human habitable accommodation as defined in the housing act 1985
  • safe electrical equipment
  • furniture to a reasonable standard, including cot/high chair for babies/young children
  • gas
  • electricity
  • water
  • sign posting to local services

NASS does not require the provision of:

  • telephones (landlines or mobile)
  • televisions, television licences or hi-fi equipment
  • new electrical goods
  • new furniture
  • cars
  • cleaning
  • gym or leisure club membership
  • computers

If an asylum seeker is given refugee status or leave to remain in the UK they are entitled to apply for social housing if they are in priority need.