Who is an asylum seeker?
Asylum means protection or safety. Asylum can be given by a government to foreigners who have been forced to leave their own countries for political reasons.
In the UK, an ‘asylum seeker’ is someone who has made a formal application for asylum and is waiting for a decision to be made on their claim. An asylum seeker is someone who is fleeing persecution in their home country, has arrived in another country, made themselves known to the authorities and exercised the legal right to apply to stay in that country.
The Home Office must decide whether or not that person qualifies for protection under the 1951 UN Convention on refugees.
Who is a refugee?
A refugee is:
"a person who is outside his/her country of nationality or habitual residence; has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion; and is unable or unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country, or to return there, for fear of persecution."
This definition is taken from Article 1 of the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, an important legal document that states who qualifies as a refugee, their rights and the legal obligations of states towards those who seek protection.
A refugee is someone whose application for asylum has been successful and has been given permission to live in the UK indefinitely, having proved that they would face persecution if they were to return home.
What is the difference between economic migrants and asylum seekers?
There needs to be made an important distinction between people who choose to travel to other countries for reasons of economic or social benefit and those who are seeking asylum.
Migrants, especially economic migrants, choose to move in order to improve their prospects. In contrast, refugees rarely have a choice to leave their home countries. Refugees and those seeking asylum are forced to move, often at very short notice in order to protect themselves from persecution and the life-threatening conditions of their countries.
Where do refugees and asylum seekers come from?
People come to the UK seeking asylum from many different countries all over the world. There is ongoing conflict and abuse of human rights taking place in many different places that forces people to flee and become refugees.
In the UK, the majority of refugees come from Afghanistan, Columbia, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, China, Zimbabwe and Congo.
Where refugees and asylum seekers come from is determined by wherever there is conflict, war and persecution taking place at a particular time.
Why do people leave their country and come to the UK?
People flee from their homes and become refugees for a range of different reasons. They leave because they are desperate to find safety and escape from the present danger that exists in their home country. Refugees do not choose to leave their homes and families. They have no choice but to leave if they are to escape torture, war, persecution and other violations of human rights that are happening in the places that they live.
Asylum seekers travel to other countries in order to seek protection from violence and persecution. Rather than a choice, it is a necessary move if they are to survive.
Women and children are especially vulnerable to the conditions of countries where there is continued conflict. Many female refugees are seeking escape from rape and sexual violence. There are frequent abductions of children and women in many countries. Young children are forced to fight in wars, often as young as aged seven. In refugee camps and war-torn countries, living conditions can be extremely poor, endangering the lives of those who remain there.
The main countries that people flee to the UK from have a history of human rights violation. According to statistics taken from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees:
- The UK is home to only a small fraction of the world’s refugees, less than 3% of a total 19.8 million displaced people.
- At the end of 2004, the UK was 11th in the league table of European countries for the number of asylum applications per head of population, less than countries like Cyprus and Luxembourg.
- The majority of refugees travel to neighbouring countries and seek asylum there rather than travelling further. This is called being ‘internally displaced’. As a result of this, most refugees are seeking asylum in developing countries.
What happens to an asylum seeker when they come to the UK?
Refugees must be granted refugee status by the UK Government before they are allowed to settle and start a new life in this country. Before this occurs they are known as an asylum seeker and are required to follow certain rules and regulations. The current asylum system is complex and the process of getting refugee status lengthy and often confusing.
Read about the Journey of the Asylum Seeker.