Vianney and his family claimed asylum in early 2013 from Sierra Leone

Myths vs Reality: Refugees and Asylum Seekers in UK

Written by: Sophie Taylor

The vast majority of people who seek asylum in the UK have fled countries ravaged by war and human rights abuses. In 2015, the largest number of asylum applications to the UK came from nationals of Eritrea (3,729), Iran (3,248), Sudan (2,918) and Syria (2,609).

According to the UN Refugee Convention, 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 [their] nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail [themself] of the protection of that country’ (Article 1, 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees). 

North Four, North London magazine, Clara, Refugee, asylum, article, myth vs reality

Clara fled threat in West Africa after speaking out about customs abusing human rights.

An asylum seeker, however, is someone who has arrived in a country and asked for asylum. Until you receive a decision as to whether or not you are a refugee, you are known as an asylum seeker. In the UK, this means asylum seekers do not have the same rights as a refugee or a British citizen would. You aren’t allowed to work as an asylum seeker, for example.

Here are some facts and figures from Refugee Action to quote the next time you hear some of the more biased ‘facts’ about asylum.

Myth #1 There are a huge percentage of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK

Reality At the end of 2014, refugees, asylum seekers and stateless persons made up just 0.24% of the UK population.

North Four, North London magazine, Refugee, asylum, article, myth vs reality

Originally from Ethiopia, Abebe fled to Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp aged sixteen.

Myth #2 There are more refugees and asylum seekers than ever before.

Reality Asylum applications to the UK are relatively low at 32,414 in 2015. Although the numbers have increased a little in recent years, it’s still significantly lower today than at the peak of 84,000 applications back in 2002.

Myth #3 The UK are already helping the most.

Reality 86% of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries. According to UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees), the country hosting the most refugees in June 2015 was Turkey; then home to 1.6 million refugees. Since then, that number has vastly increased with 2.7 million refugees from Syria alone finding shelter in Turkey’s borders.

North Four, North London magazine, Refugee, asylum, article, myth vs reality

Jana, Ahmed and baby Amir from Syria who have received support from Refugee Action

Myth #4 UK have taken more Syrian refugees than other countries.

Reality: As of September 2016, there are over 4.8 million refugees from the conflict in Syria. Around 2.7 million of these refugees are currently being hosted by just two countries; Turkey and Lebanon. As well as providing aid to the refugee camps on Syria’s borders, the UK has pledged to resettle 20,000 Syrians. As of September 2016, 2,860 Syrian refugees have come to the UK through this scheme.

In the EU last year, Germany received the largest number of asylum applications (431,00). Sweden and Hungary were joint second (163,000). Between them, these three countries received 62% of all of the asylum applications in Europe. In comparison, the UK was 9th in Europe for the number of asylum applications it received last year. If someone tells you this is because the UK is a smaller country, the UK was 17th (out of 28 EU countries) for asylum applications per head of the population.

North Four, North London magazine, Refugee, asylum, article, myth vs reality

Seble, now 28, left Eritrea when she was 17 due to religious persecution

Myth #5 Asylum seekers are stealing jobs, living on benefits and given huge houses (all at the same time, somehow).

Reality Asylum seekers are not allowed to claim benefits or work in the UK.  If they are destitute and have no other means of supporting themselves, they can apply to receive asylum support. This is set at around £5.28 per day.

When a person is given refugee status, they have just 28 days to find accommodation and apply for mainstream benefits before they are evicted from asylum accommodation. Many refugees become homeless at this stage.

Learn more, see how you can help and read refugee stories at Refugee Action

Photos, facts and figures courtesy of Refugee Action, Refugee Council and the UN Refugee Convention. 

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