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.