Who are asylum seekers? What is the difference between asylum seeker and refugee status - and how to claim UK

The UK has tough restrictions around its asylum system and waiting for a decision on an application can take some time

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The UK’s asylum system has a number of restrictions in place around who is eligible to apply. Rules were further tightened earlier this year with the passing of the Nationality and Borders Bill.

More recently the Home Office has faced criticism over allegations of overcrowding at a processing centre for asylum seekers. The Manston migrant centre in Kent has seen increasing numbers of people at the facility.

It was designed to accommodate 1,600 people, but it was said last week that it had recently seen around 3,000 there. While at the weekend 700 people were transported to the facility after a Home Office migrant centre in Dover was subject to a petrol bombing attack. But how does a person apply for asylum, who is eligible and how long can it take?

There are various eligibility criteria around applying for asylum and the process can take some time.There are various eligibility criteria around applying for asylum and the process can take some time.
There are various eligibility criteria around applying for asylum and the process can take some time.

What is the difference between a refugee and asylum seeker?

Refugees are those who seek safety in another country. Among the things they may be fleeing are war, persecution or natural disasters. A refugee status would be given to someone who has had asylum claims accepted and has permission to stay in the country.

An asylum seeker is someone who is fleeing from persecution and has arrived in a country claiming asylum until they have a decision on their application they don’t have the same rights as a refugee.

What changes did the Nationality and Borders bill make?

The controversial bill was passed into law earlier this year. Among the provisions it made was that those who arrived illegally in the UK – who could have claimed asylum in another “safe” country – would be considered as “inadmissible” to the UK asylum system.

It also brought in new measures for the use of scientific age assessment to try and stop adults claiming to be children. And the bill also included the widely-criticised Rwanda plan to relocate those entering the UK through “dangerous or illegal” journeys such as by small boat or hidden in a lorry, to have their asylum claims processed in the central African country.

Who is eligible to apply for asylum?

If someone wants to stay in the UK as a refugee they must apply for asylum, according to the UK government. In order to be able to do this they must have left their country and be unable to go back because they fear persecution.

The government states that that the person must have failed to get protection from authorities in their home country. It states that the persecution must be due to the following factors:

  • race
  • religion
  • nationality
  • political opinion
  • anything else that puts them at risk because of the social, cultural, religious or political situation in their country, for example, their gender, gender identity or sexual orientation

However, claims for asylum may not be considered if:

  • The person is from an EU country
  • Has travelled to the UK through a “safe third country” - somewhere they are not a citizen of, would not be harmed in, and would not send them to a place of harm.
  • The person has a connection to another country deemed safe may also not be eligible to get asylum in the UK.
Asylum seekers crossing the channel by boat are being processed at Manston (image: Getty Images)Asylum seekers crossing the channel by boat are being processed at Manston (image: Getty Images)
Asylum seekers crossing the channel by boat are being processed at Manston (image: Getty Images)

Can family be included on the application?

Yes. According to the government the person applying can include their partner and children under 18 as ‘dependants’ in their application if they’re with them in the UK.

What are the steps claimants have to go through?

The government states that a person seeking asylum must apply as soon as they arrive in the UK, or as soon as they think it is unsafe to return to their home country.

On its website it says an application is “more likely to be denied” if the person waits. This is the process someone must go through while applying for asylum.

  • Making the initial application on arrival in the UK - for example tellinging immigration officers they wish to claim asylum
  • Meeting with an immigration officer - known as a screening
  • If the screening is done at the border the person will have their photo and fingerprints taken as well as being interviewed to check who they are and where they are from
  • During the interview the person will be asked why they are claiming asylum and can take written evidence with them as well as identification documents
  • Home Office descides if the claim can be considered
  • If the claim goes forward the person has an interview with a caseworker
  • The applicant will recieve an ARC card which shows they have applied for asylum
  • The applicant then waits for a decision.

Charity Right to Remain states in its guide to the asylum system that: “If you didn’t claim asylum as soon as you came to the UK, you will need to explain why you didn’t claim asylum immediately, and provide evidence of this where possible.”

If an applicant is already in the UK and wants to claim asylum they need to call the asylum intake unit and make an appointment. While waiting for a decision applicants are not usually allowed to work.

How long does it take for a decision to be made?

The government website states a decision is usually made within six months. However, it can take longer for people to find out if their claim has been successful. The Refugee Council previously said analysis showed that an even an initial decision on an application could take between one to three years.

A view of the Manston migrant centre located at the former Defence Fire Training and Development Centre in Thanet, Kent. Credit: PAA view of the Manston migrant centre located at the former Defence Fire Training and Development Centre in Thanet, Kent. Credit: PA
A view of the Manston migrant centre located at the former Defence Fire Training and Development Centre in Thanet, Kent. Credit: PA

Can those applying for asylum be detained?

The government states that an applicant might be detained at an immigration removal centre while waiting for a decision on their asylum claim. People can also be detained and removed if it is decided another country is responsible for offering asylum. However, there are cases when people wouldn’t be detained:

  • children
  • elderly
  • families with children
  • if the person is pregnant
  • victims of trafficking
  • those who can provide independent evidence of torture
  • person with a mental or physical condition that cannot be managed or would present a risk to others in an immigration removal centre