Asylum is protection given by a country to someone fleeing from persecution in their own country. An asylum seeker is someone who has applied for asylum and is awaiting a decision on whether they will be granted refugee status. An asylum applicant who does not qualify for refugee status may still be granted leave to remain in the UK for humanitarian or other reasons. An asylum seeker whose application is refused at initial decision may appeal the decision through an appeals process and, if successful, may be granted leave to remain.

Asylum applications

  • The number of asylum applications to the UK peaked in 2002 at 84,132. After that the number fell sharply to reach a twenty-year low point of 17,916 in 2010, before rising again to reach 35,737 in 2019.
  • The number of applications fell slightly to 29,456 applications in 2020, as the combined result of far fewer arrivals by air and an increase in arrivals by small boat across the English Channel.
  • Asylum seekers made up around 6% of immigrants to the UK in 2019.

Decisions and refusals

  • The percentage of asylum applicants refused at initial decision reached its highest point at 88% in 2004. After that, the percentage of applicants refused at initial decision fell to 59% in 2014, then rose again before dropping to 48% in 2019.
  • In the period from 2004 to 2019, around three-quarters of applicants refused asylum at initial decision lodged an appeal and almost one third of those appeals were allowed.

Asylum caseload

  • As of March 2021, the total ‘work in progress’ asylum caseload consisted of 109,000 cases. Of these, 52,000 cases were awaiting an initial decision at the end of 2020, 5,200 were awaiting the outcome of an appeal, and approximately 41,600 cases were subject to removal action.
  • The total asylum caseload has doubled in size since 2014, driven both by applicants waiting longer for an initial decision and a growth in the number of people subject to removal action following a negative decision.

Nationality of asylum seekers and refugees

  • In 2020, 29% were nationals of Middle Eastern countries, 28% of asylum applicants were nationals of African countries, 23% were nationals of Asian countries, and 13% were from Europe.
  • Between January 2014 and March 2021, 26,661 people were resettled to the UK, mainly from Syria and the surrounding region. Resettlement accounted for around 20% of the people granted humanitarian protection in the UK since 2014.

European context

  • In 2019, there were around 5 asylum applications for every 10,000 people living in the UK. Across the EU28 there were 14 asylum applications for every 10,000 people. The UK was therefore below the average among EU countries for asylum applications per head of population, ranking 17th among EU28 countries on this measure.

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