We are a charity and a company limited by guarantee, established in 1999 by concerned local people who realised that numbers of asylum seekers and refugees were either being “dispersed” or were settling themselves in Suffolk, particularly in the Ipswich area. These concerned local people saw the need for advice, advocacy and practical support for asylum seekers and refugees.

Who are Asylum Seekers and Refugees?

An Asylum Seeker is someone who has left their country of origin due to fear of persecution and applied for protection in the UK. Many have suffered imprisonment, torture, violence and threats to themselves and their families. This can make returning to their home country extremely dangerous. The 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the status of refugees defines a Refugee as 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 to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country”.

This convention was agreed by the United Nations in 1951 as a result of the treatment of asylum seekers in the 1930s and 1940s, when many Jewish people were refused access to safe countries and forced back into Hitler’s Europe, very often to their deaths. There are still many people around the world who suffer persecution, for whom the UN Refugee Convention offers vital protection.

Current Situation

As conflicts and human rights abuses continue around the world, a record 68.5 million people are currently forcibly displaced from their homes globally, of which 25 million are refugees (the remainder are internally displaced). In 2017 an average of 31 people were newly displaced every minute. Syria is now 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 3.5 million, followed by Pakistan, Uganda, Lebanon (where 1 in 6 people is a refugee) and Iran. 52% of all refugees are children, up from 41% in 2009, and more than two-thirds of all refugees come from just five countries (Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia).

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. In fact, refugee resettlement, mostly to Western countries, has declined significantly of late, with 2018 set to see the fewest people resettled globally in any year since 2007, 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. The result is that far fewer people have attempted to cross the Mediterranean to Europe in 2018, but the proportion of those losing their lives trying has risen sharply as more risks are taken. 1095 people died on the central Mediterranean route between January and July this year – one death for every 18 arrivals.

A tiny fraction of the world’s refugees make it to Britain. In 2017 there were 1.7 million new asylum claims globally and 650,000 made in the EU (a number nearly halved from 2016). The UK received 26,350 asylum claims in 2017 – 1.5% of the global total or 4% of the EU total. The top countries of origin for asylum applicants in the UK in 2017 were Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Bangladesh and Sudan.

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 around £37 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 2017, 68% of asylum claims were refused initially, but 35% of appeals were successful.

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.

Local Situation

We estimate there are approximately 2000 refugees in Suffolk, the majority of them living in Ipswich. For historical reasons, the largest community comprises Iraqi Kurds, with established communities of Iranians and Afghans as well. Many of these have refugee status or leave to remain in the UK, with some also having achieved British citizenship. Others, however, find themselves still in legal limbo after more than a decade in the country.

There are also currently 80-90 asylum seekers, many of them families, housed in Ipswich under the government’s ‘dispersal’ system. These people come from a range of countries and all are awaiting a decision on their asylum claim.

Suffolk is also taking part in the UK government’s refugee resettlement schemes, with political leaders across Suffolk’s public sector unanimously agreeing to take up to 230 vulnerable refugees from Syria, the Middle East and North Africa by 2020. Suffolk Refugee Support has been commissioned to provide specialist casework for these families. The first refugees arrived in Ipswich in March 2016 and as of August 2018 we have welcomed 22 families to Ipswich under the schemes. They are settling in well, with many working, volunteering, studying, setting up businesses and beginning to rebuild their lives with our support.