UK asylum safe list: which countries migrants cannot claim asylum from - ‘white list’ exceptions explained

Asylum seekers who arrive in the UK from countries on the ‘safe’ list could see their claims deemed ‘unfounded’.

UK immigration laws dictate that asylum seekers who arrive from countries considered ‘safe’ by the Home Office can be fast-tracked for deportation.

This means that migrants who are citizens of countries on the ‘safe’ list are largely not permitted to seek asylum, and their claims will be regarded as ‘unfounded’. Exceptions to the rule include if the claimant is able to provide contrasting evidence, a.k.a. proof that they are not safe in their country, or evidence of a specific reason they should be accepted into the UK.

The Times reported that this ‘safe’ list was being resurrected by Home Secretary Braverman as part of the government’s plans to deal with migrant crossings. In the article, it is said that the “white-list” has not been used in recent years due to legal challenges against its use. But the Home Office told NationalWorld that this was not accurate - and the list has been in use since its creation in 2002, under the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act.

The act outlines states around the world from which the government has deemed a person cannot seek asylum. Some of these restrictions only apply to men however, with women and accompanying children still able to seek asylum due to gender-based persecution.

With the government fighting to tackle the rising number of migrant crossings in the English Channel, immigration legislation - and rules surrounding where individuals can claim asylum from, have made it back into discussion. It comes as provisional figures show that, so far this year, 40,000 migrants have arrived in the UK after taking the dangerous journey - marking a dramatic increase on the 28,500 who made the trip throughout the entirety of 2021.

But what exactly is the UK’s asylum ‘safe’ list, how does it work, and which countries are included? Here’s what you need to know.

An inflatable craft carrying migrant men, women and children crosses the shipping lane in the English Channel off the coast of Dover, England. Credit: Getty Images

What is an asylum ‘safe’ list?

An asylum ‘safe’ list is a list of countries deemed ‘safe’ by the government. This means migrants cannot claim asylum if they arrive from one of these countries, and their claim will be rejected with no right to appeal. But there is an exception to the rule - namely, if asylum seekers can prove there is a specific reason they should be accepted.

This is enforced in the UK under the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.

A Home Office spokesperson said in a statement: “We’ve been clear that we will continue to use every tool at our disposal to deter illegal migration, including returning those with no right to be in the UK to their home country. We return people who come to the UK illegally through a mixture of formal and information returns agreements with a number of countries, and we are always looking at ways to speed up removals and improve our returns processes with other countries.”

The government has faced criticism recently for its handling of migrants arriving in small boats after crossing the Channel. Credit: Getty Images

How does the system work?

Migrants who travel by small boats will usually claim asylum upon arrival in the UK. They will then typically be transferred to a processing site, such as the Manston migrant centre in Kent.

Asylum seekers, who are defined as people who have applied for the right to seek shelter and protection in another country, will then have an interview and - if their case is accepted - they can apply to remain in the UK.

But if they have come from a country on the ‘safe’ list, their claim can be rejected. Claims from citizens of the designated countries are supposed to be expedited, as there is a chance they will be regarded as ‘unfounded’. But the asylum system as a whole is under intense strain at the moment, with a reported 100,000 backlog in processing applications, and just 4% of claims from 2021 having been processed.

This has recently led to overcrowding at detention sites, such as Manston processing centre in Kent. Manston has faced a series of problems over the past few weeks, including a recent diphtheria outbreak and circumstances in which migrants were abandoned at London Victoria train station and forced to sleep rough in the capital.

The government has also recently been considering other measures to help tackle rising immigration, such as a controversial plan to deport anyone considered to have arrived in the UK “illegally” to Rwanda. The first flight of asylum seekers heading to Rwanda, which Home Secretary Suella Braverman said it would be her ‘dream’ to see, was stalled however following an intervention by the European Court of Human Rights. A legal challenge against the scheme is now being heard in the High Court.

Manston Airfield in Kent is one of the UK’s migrant processing centres. Credit: Getty Images

Which countries are on the list?

Countries that are currently included on the list are:

  • the Republic of Albania
  • Jamaica
  • Macedonia
  • the Republic of Moldova
  • Bolivia
  • Brazil
  • Ecuador
  • South Africa
  • India
  • Mongolia
  • Ghana (in respect of men)
  • Nigeria (in respect of men)
  • Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • Gambia (in respect of men)
  • Kenya (in respect of men
  • Liberia (in respect of men)
  • Malawi (in respect of men)
  • Mali (in respect of men)
  • Mauritius
  • Montenegro
  • Peru
  • Serbia
  • Sierra Leone (in respect of men)
  • Kosovo
  • South Korea

When was the list decided?

The first list of countries from where it was decided that asylum applicants would have no right of appeal in the UK if their claims were refused was announced on 7 October 2002, and consisted of the ten EU accession countries: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia.

The second list was announced on 6 February 2003, and included Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania and Serbia and Montenegro. On 17 June 2003, it was extended to include the countries Brazil, Equador, Bolivia, South Africa, Ukraine, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

At the time, the Refugee Council’s acting chief executive, Margaret Lally said: “This worrying assumption by the government that asylum seekers are the equivalent of ‘guilty before proven innocent’ could leave vulnerable individuals sent home to face persecution.

“The inclusion of Sri Lanka on this list proves once again that the government does not take protection of refugees seriously. The number of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka has reduced significantly as a consequence of greater confidence in the Norwegian-backed peace process, but the situation remains fragile and many individuals are still at risk, as evidenced by the 170 successful appeals in the first three months of this year.

“Under the new proposals these 170 individuals would have been denied their right to appeal their erroneous Home Office decision within the UK.”

The UK has a list of countries deemed ‘safe’. Asylum applications from citizens of these countries are largely rejected. Credit: Getty Images

Recently, a country included on the ‘safe’ list which has gained more attention is Albania, which as a country has accounted for the largest number of small boat crossings this year. According to provisional government figures, Albanians have made up 12,000 of the 43,000 people who have arrived in the UK.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We value our Albanian community in the UK, and continue to welcome Albanians who travel to the UK legally and contribute to British society. However, this year we are seeing large numbers of Albanians risking their lives and making dangerous and unnecessary journeys to the UK through illegal means, and this is placing further strain on our asylum system.

“With cooperation from the government of Albania, we are taking every opportunity to intercept the work of organised criminal gangs and people smugglers, and speeding up the removal of Albanians with no right to be in the UK.”