Refuge and Asylum - a background

Refugees, asylum seekers & migrants

Refugees in the world today

Britain and Refugees

Asylum in the UK

Unaccompanied children

What can I do to support refugees and asylum seekers?



Refugees, asylum seekers & migrants




“A person 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 his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees


Asylum Seeker


A person who has left their country of origin and formally applied for refugee status in another country but whose application has not yet been concluded.




A person who has left their country of origin to live in another country, either permanently or temporarily. Individuals may travel for a range of reasons, such as work, family and economic/environmental factors.


Internally Displaced Person (IDP)


Someone who has been forced to flee his or her home but has not crossed an international border. Even if they have fled for similar reasons as refugees, IDPs legally remain under the protection of their own government – even though that government might be the cause of their flight.


Refused Asylum Seeker


A refused asylum seeker is a person whose asylum application has been unsuccessful and who has no other claim for protection awaiting a decision. Some refused asylum seekers voluntarily return home, others are forcibly returned and for some it is not safe or practical for them to return until conditions in their country change.


Unaccompanied Minor


A child who is outside of their country of origin, seeking refugee status without parents, relatives or a legal guardian.














Refugees in the world today

By the end of 2019, the UNHCR (the UN refugee agency) had registered 79.5 million individuals who were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, generalised violence, or human rights violations. Of these, some 26 million people were refugees, 45.7 million internally displaced persons, and 4.2 million asylum seekers. 3.6 million people were also included under a new category, ‘Venezuelan’s displaced abroad’.

In 2019, over two-thirds of refugees and Venezuelans displaced abroad worldwide come from just five countries: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar.

Years of ongoing, destructive civil war have left Syria as the world’s largest refugee producing country. In 2019, there were 6.6 million Syrian refugees globally, with the majority living in surrounding countries. More than 3.5 million Syrians live in neighbouring Turkey, host to the largest number of refugees in the world since 2014. Over 900,000 Syrian refugees also live in Lebanon, where they make up a seventh of the population.

By the end of 2019. 4.5 million Venezuelans had left their country, the largest exodus in the region’s recent history. Escaping violence, insecurity and a lack of food, medicine and essential services, the vast majority have travelled to other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Neighbouring Colombia alone is now hosting nearly 1.8 million displaced Venezuelans.

Continuous conflict spanning the last forty years has left around 2.7 million Afghans living outside the country. More than 1.4 million Afghan refugees reside in neighbouring Pakistan, which hosts the third largest number of refugees worldwide.

Conflict in South Sudan broke out in 2013. The ongoing civil war has created a refugee population of 2.2 million, with the majority living in neighbouring countries, including Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The persecuted Muslim minority Rohingya have fled violence in Myanmar since the 1990s. The latest wave of displacement began in 2017 when violence emerged in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, and there are now 1.1 million refugees from the country. The vast majority of these are hosted by Bangladesh, where 56% of stateless Rohingya refugees are children.

Britain and refugees

In 2019, the UK received 35,566 asylum applications, a 21% increase from the previous year. Despite an overall annual increase in asylum applications across the EU in 2019, applications in the UK were still far behind many of its European neighbours. Germany (142,400) and France’s (119,000) asylum applications collectively accounted for over a third of all first-time asylum applications made in the EU27 in 2019 (42.9%). Spain (115,000) and Greece (74,900)  both also received more first-time asylum applications than the UK did in 2019.

A total 612,700 first time applications were received across the EU27 in 2019. The UK received around 5 asylum applications per 10,000 people in 2019, ranking the UK 17th across the EU28 in terms of asylum applications per-head of population.

Resettlement schemes

The UK also runs refugee resettlement schemes, which grant refugee status or other forms of humanitarian protection to people living abroad. These people are then brought to the UK. The UK currently runs four resettlement schemes, which brought 2,935 adult and 2,677 child refugees to the UK in 2019 (a total decrease of 3% from the previous year).


A new ‘Global Resettlement Scheme’, which will replace the existing ‘vulnerable persons resettlement scheme’ (VPRS) and ‘vulnerable children resettlement scheme’ (VCRS) is due to be launched in 2020. The new scheme will aim to bring 5,000 refugees to the UK in its first year.

Asylum in the UK

Claiming asylum in the UK is a long and complicated process. Click here to read about what happens when you submit an asylum claim. Visit the Refugee Council’s website for regularly updated information on changes made to the UK asylum system during the Coronavirus pandemic.

In the year ending December 2019, 45% of initial asylum decisions in the UK were grants of asylum, with a further seven percent positive judgements offering other forms of protection, a significantly higher number than recent years.

In the same period, 47 percent of overall decisions made were refusals (down from 65% in 2018).[1] Many asylum seekers who are refused protection by the Home Office go on to appeal the decision in the courts. Between 2012 and 2016,  40 percent of refusals taken to appeal were overturned (rising to 44% in the year ending December 2019).[2]

Asylum seekers have extremely limited employment rights in the UK. If their asylum claim has not been concluded after twelve months, they are able to apply for jobs on the Occupation Shortage List. The specific nature of jobs on this list excludes the vast majority of asylum seekers from any form of work.

Unable to work, asylum seekers, regardless of age, receive £5.66 per-day in support. This must cover food, toiletries, clothing, transport and other necessities. This support has only increased by £2.68 a week since 2011, and is lower than the rate provided fourteen years ago. Housing is provided for through privately rented accommodation on a no-choice basis, often using properties that the councils do not want.

Asylum seekers who have been refused asylum but have not or are unable to be returned to their country of origin do not receive monetary support. They receive temporary accommodation, also on a no-choice basis, and an Azure card pre-loaded with £35.39 a week (for single asylum seekers). There are restrictions on what can be purchased with the card and it is only accepted in certain shops. Read more about the Azure card and its impact on individuals here.

Asylum seekers and refused asylum seekers routinely face detention in immigration removal centres. An individual need not have committed a crime to be imprisoned and there is no time limit for how long an individual may be detained. Read more about detention here.

[1] Both: ‘How many people do we grant asylum or protection to? – Table ‘Asy_02a’

[2] Table ‘Asy_05’

Unaccompanied Children

In the year ending December 2019, over 3,500 unaccompanied refugee children applied for asylum in the UK, constituting over 90% of all applications from under-18s.[1] In 2019, 14,100 children lodged asylum applications across the EU27. In the past decade, the number in the UK has ranged between 1,000 and 3,000. Unaccompanied minors may be age assessed by the Home Office or the local authority on arrival to determine their age. An imprecise process, age assessments can and do result in children being treated as adults, leading to placements in shared adult accommodation or detention centres and leaving children at risk of abuse.

Once they turn eighteen, unaccompanied minors still face a number of challenges. Most commonly only offered short-term protection, at eighteen they must reapply for asylum. The 2016 Immigration Act has also removed much of the vital support unaccompanied minors receive. Once eighteen, many will no longer be able to remain in foster care and will be unable to access accommodation, further education or legal advice.

Many of those who have their case refused are then returned to countries they no longer identify with, lacking the support structures necessary to help them build a new life. After Return is a report by the Refugee Support Network documenting the experiences of young people forcibly removed to Afghanistan.

[1] Table ‘Asy_01a’

What can I do to support refugees and asylum seekers?

  • JCORE’s Unaccompanied Minors Project (JUMP) is a befriending project supporting unaccompanied young refugees in London. We match these young people with a trained volunteer befriender. Together they build a non-judgemental, non-directive friendship.


  • JCORE Support sees us work with partner organisations who provide direct support to destitute asylum seekers in London. We organise and run collections of necessity items that these organisations distribute. If you're able to organise a collection, email


  • The Support Refugees site has a range of opportunities for individuals or communities to get involved in. Visit the Volunteering page for short or long-term volunteering opportunities, or the Campaigns page to find out how you make positive changes to the UK asylum system.