As conflicts and human rights abuses continue around the world, a record 65 million people are currently displaced from their homes globally, of which 21 million are refugees (the remainder are internally displaced). 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. More than 4.5 million Syrian refugees are in just five countries (Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt) with Turkey alone hosting 2.5 million. 86% of all refugees are hosted by developing nations and more than half the world’s refugees are now children.
With record levels of displacement, poor living conditions and rights for refugees in many host countries, and few legal routes to the West, people are seeking safety through increasingly dangerous routes. More than 5,000 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean in 2016, the worst annual death toll ever despite attempted crossings falling significantly.
A tiny fraction of the world’s refugees make it to Britain. In 2016 the UK received 30,603 claims for asylum, excluding dependants (source), out of more than 1.2 million asylum seekers newly registered across EU states (source), meaning the UK received less than 3% of asylum claims within the EU. The top countries of origin for asylum applicants in the UK in 2016 were Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
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 £35 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 and expected to return home.
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.