How many refugees come to the UK each year? Asylum seeker numbers explained as UK announces Rwanda plan

Asylum seekers coming to the UK will be sent to Rwanda for processing.Asylum seekers coming to the UK will be sent to Rwanda for processing.
Asylum seekers coming to the UK will be sent to Rwanda for processing. | NationalWorld
The UK is set to send asylum seekers to Rwanda to be processed but what is the scale of the issue facing the government?

Asylum seekers who cross the English Channel in small boats will be sent 4,000 miles away to Rwanda for processing, the UK Government has announced.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the move was to end the “barbaric trade” in human trafficking as record breaking numbers attempted the perilous journey last year.

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The plans have been widely condemned and come on the back of further criticism of the government’s handling of the Ukraine crisis as visa delays hold up thousands of refugees.

But what is the scale of the issue facing the UK government, where do the most refugees come from and how does the UK compare to other countries who host asylum seekers?

How many asylum seekers travel to the UK across the English Channel?

The new legislation is expected to target single male asylum seekers who arrive in the UK via small boats as well as on lorries.

Latest figures from the Home Office show there was a surge in boat crossings on the English Channel last year with thousands, including children, risking their lives to make the journey.

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Last year the number of boat crossings soared by 61%, rising from 641 in 2020 to 1,034 in 2021. More than 28,500 people were recorded having arrived or headed for the UK last year too, including 3,300 children. Almost three quarters (74%) were men aged 18 and over.

But to fly the thousands of asylum seekers who arrive to the UK by small boat each year would require well over one hundred flights.

To fly every man that arrived in the UK last year via a small boat would require 112 flights being chartered (based on a standard 189 seat Boeing 737-800) with 151 being needed to fly every person, including women and children, to Rwanda.

The figures also show most people who attempted the crossing last year were from Iran (28%), followed by Iraq (19%) and Eritrea (10%).

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Why do asylum seekers come to the UK?

Whether people are fleeing war or persecution there are many reasons why people flee their country and want to enter the UK.

Charities say most migrants that come to the UK are asylum seekers looking for refugee status, not economic migrants.

According to organisations working with asylum seekers, some people fleeing war-torn countries want to seek asylum in the UK, rather than other European countries, because they have family here or because they speak English.

Who is seeking asylum in the UK?

According to Home Office figures, most asylum seekers in the UK come from Sub-Saharan Africa with nearly a quarter of a million (232,000) asylum applications having been received since 2001. This includes people from Somalia, Zimbabwe and Eritrea.

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Thousands of applications have also been received from people from the Middle East.

This includes asylum seekers from war-torn countries like Syria, Yemen and Iraq. In total the UK has received 184,500 asylum applications from the Middle East since 2001.

At a country level, the most asylum applications have come from people from Iran (77,000 applications), Iraq (68,000 applications) and Pakistan (61,000 applications).

Rwandans have also sought refuge in the UK, according to the figures with 2,150 applications being received since 2001.

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How many asylum seekers has the UK already accepted?

The number of refugees in both the UK and Rwanda is not wildly different.

Figures sourced from The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees shows the UK had accepted 136,000 refugees under UNHCR’s mandate while Rwanda has accepted 123,000.


The number of asylum seekers varies dramatically though with the UK having 83,500 and Rwanda having just 228.

The UK is known for its strict and complex asylum system and has welcomed far fewer refugees than some neighbouring Western countries.

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Germany, France, Sweden and Austria have all accepted more refugees under UNHCR’s mandate than the UK but only Germany has accepted more asylum seekers than the UK with 232,000.

Turkey, which shares a border with Syria and Iran, has accepted more refugees than any other country in the world, at approximately 3.7 million, and has a further 322,000 seeking asylum.

The figures are correct as of mid-2021 so do not include people fleeing the war in Ukraine.

How many asylum applications does the UK receive each year?

Figures from the Home Office show the level of asylum applications made annually, with 56,000 made in the last year.

On average the UK receives around 41,000 asylum applications each year.

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