Refugee Week 2023

Ely Refugee Resettlement Campaign (ERRC) Briefing  – facts, figures and current issues

See our letter to the council (and write your own) here.

Asylum is the protection granted by a nation-state to a person who has fled their country to escape serious threat to their life or liberty.

People granted this protection, arising from the United Nations 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (to which over 140 nations are signatories), are called refugees.

Refugee is also used more generally to encompass anyone fleeing their country to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster, even if they have not been granted protection under the Refugee Convention.

The core principle of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) 1951 Convention on Refugees [i] is that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. The Convention also outlines the basic minimum standards for the treatment of refugees, including the right to housing, work and education while displaced so they can lead a dignified and independent life.

Most refugees are unable to travel far beyond the borders of their home countries. They often live in refugee camps or in poverty in neighbouring countries for years. Many children have lived their entire lives in camps.

Refugee resettlement is separate from the asylum process. To claim asylum, people must apply when already in the UK, whereas some refugees, who are at high risk of harm or exploitation or particularly vulnerable due to ill health, are selected for resettlement by the United Nations. These families and individuals are transferred to the UK in agreement with the Home Office and receive refugee status on arrival.

The UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS) operates alongside the Community Sponsorship Scheme, through which groups such as ERRC, offer practical and emotional support to empower families to rebuild their lives in safety, and to become self-sufficient members of their new community.

The number of refugees seeking asylum in the UK is increasing with 75,492 applications (relating to 91,047 people) in the year ending March 2023 (33% more than in 2022 and the highest number for 2 decades). Protection (in the form of refugee status, humanitarian protection, discretionary leave and resettlement) was granted to 22,648 people, of which 4.414 were as the result of resettlement schemes.[ii]

In 2021 Iran, Iraq, Eritrea, Albania and Syria were the top five most common countries of nationality of people who applied for asylum in the UK.

Small boat arrivals accounted for 44% of asylum applications in the year ending March 2023.

In 2021, when compared against EU+ countries, the UK ranked 6th in the absolute number of people to whom it gave protection, including asylum seekers and resettled refugees. However the UK falls to 19th place in the ranking when adjusting for population size.

The Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme opened in January 2022 and aims to resettle 20,000 people in three years. 

Two visa schemes are in place for people fleeing the war in Ukraine. The Ukraine Family Scheme allows Ukrainian citizens and close family members to apply for a visa, free, to come to the UK to join relatives, who must be either British citizens or have permanent residence. The Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme, also known as Homes for Ukraine, allows Ukrainian nationals and immediate family members to come to the UK if they have a named sponsor, which could be an individual, community group, local authority or business.

The following is extracted from Asylum and refugee resettlement in the UK, the Migration Observatory, Centre on Migration, Policy and Society, University of Oxford, August 2022 [iii]

  • On 31 December 2021, around 101,000 people (the highest level since 2003) were awaiting an initial Home Office decision on their asylum application, with only 6% receiving an initial decision within six months.
  • Of all refugees resettled in the UK from January 2010 to December 2021, around 70% were Syrian citizens.
  • Despite nominal increases, in real terms the asylum support payment level in 2022 was 27% lower than in 2000.
  • The distribution of asylum seekers and resettled refugees is highly uneven across the UK.

The Illegal Migration Bill 2023

  • The Illegal Migration Bill, currently going through the House of Lords, will change the law so that people, including accompanied and separated children who come to the UK illegally as refugees will not be able to stay.  They will be detained and then promptly removed, either to their home country or a safe third country (a plan to deport illegal migrants to Rwanda is still awaiting decision in the Court of Appeal).  Once removed they will not be eligible to reapply for asylum.

Impact of the Illegal Migration Bill on Child Refugees, as outlined by the Refugee Council [iv]

In the year ending September 2022, the UK received 5,152 applications for asylum from unaccompanied children. Many of them come from Sudan, a country facing political instability following years of civil war. Sudan is the 29th highest nation in the world for child marriage where girls as young as 10 years of age can be legally married.

  • The Home Secretary has a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and their right to protection from persecution, discrimination and violence, as set out in UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1992).
  • There is concern that the Illegal Migration Bill will significantly undermine these rights: “the proposals will leave children locked out of claiming refugee protection; detained; removed; if unaccompanied, accommodated by the Home Office outside the established care system …” [v]
  • The Home Secretary retains the power to remove children separated from their families and this becomes a duty when a child turns 18.
  • According to the Refugee Council’s impact assessment, between 13,089 and 14,935 unaccompanied children and between 26,483 and 30,218 children with family members will have their claims for asylum deemed inadmissible.

Safe Passage supports the thousands of unaccompanied child refugees that arrive in Europe in search of safety.  Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT UK) works to protect children from trafficking and transnational exploitation.

[i]  United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees