As conflicts, crises and human rights abuses escalate around the world, a record 79.5 million people are currently forcibly displaced from their homes globally, of whom 26 million are refugees (the remainder are internally displaced). Over the last decade an astonishing 100 million people have been newly displaced, and currently 1% of the world’s population are forced from their homes. Syria is by far the world’s leading producer of both internally displaced people and refugees, with more than half the population displaced by conflict. 85% of all refugees are hosted by developing regions – Turkey currently hosts the largest number of refugees, with 3.6 million – and 50% of all refugees are children, up from 41% in 2009.
Along with record levels of displacement, living conditions are poor for refugees in many host countries, and there are few legal routes to the West. Refugee resettlement, mostly to Western countries, has declined significantly of late, largely because of the US slashing its quotas. Western countries have also taken steps to prevent irregular arrivals of refugees and to limit rescue operations at sea. As of the end of 2019, at least 19,164 people had died trying to cross the Mediterranean since 2014.
A tiny fraction of the world’s refugees make it to Britain. In 2019 there were 2 million new asylum claims globally and the UK received 35,566 (or 1.7% of the total). For comparison, Germany received 142, 500 and France 123,900 new asylum claims that year. It is worth bearing in mind, as relatively small numbers of people attempt to cross the Channel to the UK for specific reasons, that France dealt with 3.5 times as many asylum claims as the UK in 2019.
The UK Border Agency processes claims for asylum and decides whether or not applicants can remain in Britain. Whilst they wait for a decision asylum seekers are not allowed to work or claim mainstream benefits. They can, however, apply for housing from the UK Border Agency and receive £39.60 per week to live on.
Some asylum decision are made very quickly, while others can take many years. The asylum seeker will be granted either “leave to remain” (this can be short-term, indefinite or Refugee Status) or they will be refused asylum in the UK. At this point they can either appeal or be expected to return to their country of origin. In 2019, 52% of initial decisions resulted in grants of asylum or other forms of leave to remain, and a further 44% of appeal decisions were successful, meaning that a majority of people claiming asylum in this country last year were able to prove they had a well-founded fear of persecution and a genuine need for protection.
Once an individual has received the right to remain in the UK, they are no longer an asylum seeker and are generally referred to as a refugee. At this point they have the same rights as other British residents, i.e. they can seek work, apply for benefits, reside where they choose, and apply for British citizenship after a qualification period – they do not receive any kind of preferential treatment.