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Refugee Week: asylum in the UK, by numbers

Refugee Week: asylum in the UK, by numbers

This week is Refugee Week. From 15-21 June 2020, the UK celebrates the contribution of refugees to the UK and promotes better understanding of why people seek sanctuary.

Our small contribution to that aim is above. The infographic draws on government figures to illustrates some trends in asylum in the UK. Most of the data comes from the Home Office immigration statistics for the year ending March 2020, which are validated by the independent Office for National Statistics. What follows is a bit more information about what the graphs and charts show.

Facts and figures are, of course, no substitute for the human stories of refugees. Check out the Refugee Week website for online events.

Appeal success rates

Those who want the protection of the UK government, having fled persecution in their country of origin, must apply to the Home Office for recognition as a refugee. The UK is no soft touch when it comes to asylum decisions: traditionally around two thirds are refused.

That said, last year bucked the trend. In 2019, 52% of asylum seekers were granted refugee status or another form of legal protection in the UK at the first time of asking. That’s a jump from 35% in 2018, which was about average. The European Economic Area average in 2019 was 40%.

Many of these decisions to refuse asylum turn out to have been wrong. Immigration judges routinely allow thousands of appeals every year. As the infographic shows, the proportion of appeals that are successful has been rising, from a low of 27% in 2013 to 44% last year.

Top five countries of origin

In 2019, over 44,000 people applied for asylum in the UK (including dependent family members). A good chunk — 40% — were from the five countries mentioned in the infographic: Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Albania and Eritrea. Other significant “countries of origin” include Afghanistan, Vietnam, Sudan and Syria.

The chart at the bottom of the infographic shows how things have changed over the past few years. In 2013, Sri Lanka was in the top five, but now ranks 17th.

The list of nationalities actually granted refugee status can look very different. Only a handful of Indians are successful in claiming asylum, for example, at least before appeal. By contrast, almost all Eritreans and Sudanese are granted asylum.

Total asylum applications

There are more than twice as many refugees in Sub-Saharan Africa than in the European Union, according to the World Bank; as many in the world’s least developed countries as in the OECD. The UK’s share of the world’s refugees is particularly light, partly because of its geographic location. The World Bank puts the number of refugees in the UK in 2018 at around 127,000, or 0.48% of the world’s refugees.

Even by UK standards, the number of asylum seekers today is not particularly high. As the chart above shows, numbers peaked around the turn of the century — over 100,000 in 2002, if dependants were included — and have been fairly steady in recent years. The average over the past five years has been 39,000, well under half the average for the peak years around the year 2000.

Refugees resettled

All the discussion so far has been of asylum seekers who made their own way to the UK and were granted (or refused) refugee status. But some refugees are brought directly into the UK. This is known as resettlement.

The UK’s main resettlement programme over the past few years has targeted Syrians living in camps in the region. David Cameron promised to resettle 20,000 vulnerable Syrians between 2015 and 2020, a target reflected in the nationality breakdown of refugee resettlement shown above.

To mark last year’s Refugee Week, the Home Secretary announced that resettlement would continue beyond the end of 2019 at the same rate of roughly 5,000 a year. That said, under the number of people resettled immediately fell in the first quarter of 2020, to 815 — the lowest in four years.

CJ McKinney

CJ is Free Movement's deputy editor. He's here to make sure that the website is on top of everything that happens in the world of immigration law, whether by writing articles, commissioning them out or considering submissions. When not writing about immigration law, CJ covers wider legal affairs at the website Legal Cheek and on Twitter: follow him @mckinneytweets.

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