10 questions about Asylum Seekers and Refugees… answered

Unsure how to describe what you’ve heard about asylum seekers and refugees? Read our 10 FAQs so you can teach your friends and family.

If you’ve got a question you’d like to ask us about asylum seekers and refugees in our area, please feel free to contact us.

1. Are asylum seekers and refugees the same?

No. An asylum seeker is someone in the process of claiming refugee status. People become refugees in the UK when their claim for asylum has been formally accepted by the government.

2. Why do asylum seekers and refugees exist?

Asylum seekers and refugees exist because they have a ‘well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion’, as outlined in the 1951 Refugee Convention. Later, a European Council Directive extended this to include ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender specific issues’.

3. Where do asylum seekers and refugees come from?

Potentially anywhere. People become asylum seekers or refugees after they leave their country of nationality because of their inability and/or fear to seek protection from persecution there. For stateless people, it’s when they leave the place of habitual residence for the same reason.

4. Why would asylum seekers come to the United Kingdom to become refugees?

Many asylum seekers have little choice over where they go. However, the United Kingdom is sometimes preferred because of human rights protections, family/societal ties, language connections or hope that the correct papers can be obtained. Nonetheless, the United Kingdom’s process for asylum seekers is extremely difficult.

5. How are asylum seekers and refugees treated in the United Kingdom?

Asylum seekers in the United Kingdom receive no more than £36.95 if they are aged over 18 and single. A house, flat, hostel or B&B room will be provided to prevent homelessness. Some NHS services are accessible. No asylum seekers can work. They all have to report to the police on a regular basis.

People given refugee status have permission to work, can use health services, and receive support from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The day a person is told they are granted refugee status, they have 28 days to find work and/or apply for benefits. Many fall into destitution.

6. What is the United Kingdom’s history with asylum seekers and refugees?

The United Kingdom’s historical service to refugees is often praised by politicians. Our isles have been refuge for countless numbers of people fleeing persecution; from the Huguenots in France to Jews across Europe. But history also captures what happened last year, last month, and yesterday. We can do more to improve the way we continue our longstanding support.

7. What’s happening in Europe to help asylum seekers and refugees?

The European Union has tried to set standards across all its member states for the protection of asylum seeker and refugees’ rights under international law. But it’s fair to say that so far consistency is almost non existent. There’s lots of changes happening at the moment, with new Regulations (binding obligations) and Directives (goals to achieve) taking effect under the Common European Asylum System.

8. Can asylum seekers and refugees stay in the United Kingdom for as long as they like?

No. The time an asylum seeker or refugee spends in the United Kingdom depends on the individual’s case. Cases can take months if not years to reach a conclusion. If refugee status is granted, then the individual is sometimes allowed to stay for up to five years. After five years, refugees can apply to settle here.

9. Why are there asylum seekers and refugees in Swindon?

In 1999, a new law was passed across the United Kingdom designed to reduce the concentration of asylum seekers and refugees in London and the south east. Swindon has become one of the south west’s ‘dispersal towns’. The asylum seekers have no choice over which town or city they are ‘dispersed’ to.

10. It’s alright to support genuine asylum seekers and refugees, but what about the ‘illegal’ immigrants?

An ‘illegal’ immigrant is a person who enters the United Kingdom without following the immigration rules. We know some people deliberately break these rules who are not seeking asylum. But we also know that great numbers of asylum seekers have no choice over which country they arrive in; they do not mean to break the rules. Many of them are victims of human trafficking.

When people claim asylum, we strongly believe it’s wrong to presume guilt before innocence.