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 annual 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. It rose steadily again throughout the 2010s and then sharply in 2021, to 48,540, which was the highest annual number since 2003.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic reduced the number of asylum seekers arriving by air routes in 2020 and 2021. However, during this time the number of people arriving in small boats across the Channel (many, if not most, of whom applied for asylum) rose substantially.
  • Asylum seekers made up around 6% of immigrants to the UK in 2019. In 2020, when overall immigration was lower than usual due to the pandemic, asylum seekers might have made up around 12% of immigrants.

Decisions and refusals

  • The percentage of asylum applicants refused at initial decision reached its highest point at 88% in 2004. Since then, the refusal rate has been falling overall and was at 28%, its lowest point since 1990.
  • In the period from 2004 to 2020, 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 June 2021, the total ‘work in progress’ asylum caseload consisted of 125,000 cases. Of these, 57,000 cases were awaiting an initial decision at the end of 2020, 5,900 were awaiting the outcome of an appeal, and approximately 39,500 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 2021, 43% were nationals of Middle Eastern countries, 28% of asylum applicants were nationals of African countries, 18% were nationals of Asian countries, and 12% were from Europe.
  • Between 2014 and 2021, nearly 28,000 people were resettled to the UK, mainly from Syria and the surrounding region. Resettlement accounted for around 19% of the people granted humanitarian protection in the UK since 2014.

European context

  • In 2020, there were around 6 asylum applications for every 10,000 people living in the UK. Across the EU27 there were 11 asylum applications for every 10,000 people. When compared with EU countries, the UK ranked 14th out of the individual countries in terms of the number of asylum applications per capita.

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