Fact check: can Sudan refugees apply for asylum in UK via UNHCR? Suella Braverman ‘legal’ routes explained
The UNHCR said there is no “asylum visa or queue” for refugees wishing to come to the UK.
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Home Secretary Suella Braverman has claimed that there are “various” ways for refugees from Sudan to claim asylum in the UK, after ruling out creating “new safe routes” for those fleeing the war-torn country.
In an interview with Sky News, Braverman argued there was “no good reason” for those fleeing Sudan to cross the English Channel in small boats. “If you are fleeing Sudan for humanitarian reasons,” she continued, “there are various mechanisms you can use. The UNHCR is present in the region - and they are the mechanism by which people should apply if they do want to seek asylum in the UK.”
However, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) quickly responded to Braverman - rebuking the claims. In a statement, the organisation said: “UNHCR is aware of recent public statements suggesting that refugees wishing to apply for asylum in the United Kingdom should do so via the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ respective offices in their home region.
“UNHCR wishes to clarify that there is no mechanism through which refugees can approach UNHCR with the intention of seeking asylum in the U.K. There is no asylum visa or ‘queue’ for the United Kingdom.”
On Sky News, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said there was “no good reason” for those fleeing Sudan to cross the English Channel in small boats. “If you are fleeing Sudan for humanitarian reason there are various mechanisms you can use," she said. "The UNHCR is present in the region - and they are the mechanism by which people should apply if they do want to seek asylum in the UK.”
Meanwhile, Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell also appeared to contradict Braverman’s claims, telling Sky News that “safe and legal routes” do not at the moment exist for a Sudanese person wishing to claim asylum in the UK. He continued: “But the Prime Minister, in the changes that we are making as part of the [Illegal Migration Bill], has said that we will be seeking to set up safe and legal routes.”
When NationalWorld asked the Home Office if Braverman planned to retract her claims following the rebuke by the UNHCR, they declined to provide any further comment.
So, is it possible for refugees in Sudan to travel to the UK via ‘safe’ and ‘legal’ routes, as the Home Secretary suggested? We’ll unpick her claims - and take a look at the reality for those wishing to seek asylum in the UK, as explained by hte UNHCR.
Can refugees from Sudan seek asylum in the UK?
Braverman suggested that refugees from Sudan could “apply” for asylum in the UK via the UNHCR. However, the UNHCR pointed out that the word “apply” is factually inaccurate.
The only way refugees can ‘legally’ seek asylum in the UK, the UNHCR explained, is via its global resettlement scheme. But, there is no “application process” for this, as refugees who are at a heightened risk are instead identified by the UNHCR’s “ongoing protection programmes”. Refugees essentially have to be chosen in order to be eligible.
This is also the “rare exception” when it comes to seeking asylum, the organisation added, and is available to fewer that 1% of refugees worldwide. It’s also worth noting that currently, new resettlement opportunities are “minimal” - with resettlements, mostly of cases referred pre-pandemic, standing at a rate of around 100 individuals arriving in the UK per month.
In its fact sheet on ‘safe and regular routes to the UK’, the UNHCR explains: “The UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS) was launched in 2020 with the aim of creating a more global scheme. UNHCR has not been provided with a quota for the UKRS since 2020 and has been requested to restrict any new submissions to highly exceptional cases on an ad-hoc basis, amounting to a handful per year.”
The only exceptions are for people fleeing Ukraine or Afghanistan, who the UK has opened bespoke schemes for. In June 2022, according to the UNHCR, the government agreed to receive up to 2,000 referrals of Afghan refugees in the first year of Pathway 2 of the ‘Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme.’
For those fleeing Ukraine, the UK government has opened the Homes for Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme, the Ukraine Family Scheme, and the Ukraine Extension Scheme, which enables Ukrainians to enter or extend their stay in the UK.
While some refugees from Sudan will be accepted into the UK, you can not “apply” to seek asylum, as Suella Braverman claimed. There also aren’t “various” mechanisms you can use - as ‘safe’ or ‘legal’ routes into the UK remain limited.
Will the UK accept refugees from Sudan?
Braverman also confirmed on Wednesday (26 April) while speaking to Sky News that the government has “no plans” to introduce safe and legal routes for asylum seekers fleeing Sudan, saying that the priority is to support “British nationals and their dependents.”
She said that any Sudanese refugees who arrive in the UK on small boats would have “come here illegally”, and would face detainment and then deportation to Rwanda, as per the government’s upcoming Illegal Migration Bill.
Sudan has been a significant increase in tensions over the past year, with reports of political and religious persecution becoming more widespread. This escalated when fighting has erupted in the country’s capital city Khartoum this month, as powerful rival military factions battle for control of Sudan.
More than 450 people have been killed in the conflict and another 4,000 wounded so far, according to the World Health Organisation - but the true number is likely to be higher.
How many refugees are accepted by the UK?
According to Home Office figures, overall in 2022, the UK offered protection to 23,841 people (including dependants). These took the following forms:
- 16,649 were granted refugee permission following an asylum application
- 56 were granted temporary refugee permission
- 1,042 were granted humanitarian protection
- 302 were granted alternative forms of leave (such as discretionary leave, UASC leave)
- 5,792 were resettled to the UK through resettlement schemes