Some people believe that it’s too easy to get into the UK, but the process for claiming asylum in this country can, in fact, be long, stressful and complex. So how exactly does the UK system work?
How do you apply for asylum?
Anyone who has fled his or her country to the UK and wants to stay here must apply for asylum, in other words, formal protection as a refugee.
They must present themselves at their port of entry to an immigration officer, or travel to the Asylum Screening Unit in Croydon at their own expense for an asylum screening meeting, to register a formal application for asylum to the Home Office. They are photographed and finger-printed, and get an application registration card.
This is followed by a compulsory asylum interview with a case worker, where they are asked to explain in detail how they have been persecuted in their home country and why they are afraid to go back, providing any evidence supporting their claims. This can be challenging, as many have left home under pressure without, for example, passports, identification and travel documents.
Where happens while you wait?
Asylum seekers believed to have legitimate claims are put into different kinds of accommodation provided by the Home Office, including private housing and temporary accommodation like hotels or B&Bs. They can be sent anywhere in the UK and cannot choose where to live.
Since 2000, thousands have been detained in 13 special immigration centres run by the Government’s HM Prison Service and their cases reviewed on a ‘fast track’ basis (about two weeks). The pressure this Detained Fast Track system puts on applicants has been strongly criticised by the High Court and is felt to be inhumane by many refugee charities, but at the end of 2014, 1,698 asylum seekers (the vast majority male) were still in detention.
Asylum seekers not in detention are required to report on a regular basis to one of 15 centres across the UK. If they fail to do this, their claim can be dismissed.
People awaiting an asylum decision are not allowed to work, but if their claim takes more than a year, can apply to do so. They are housed in special accommodation and given a modest living allowance in cash or vouchers, pitched well under income support.
This is currently set at £36.95 per person per week to cover food, clothing and toiletries. That makes £5.28 a day per person.
How are decisions made?
Decisions are made by civil servants in the Home Office or by immigration judges.
Asylum seekers can expect one of two outcomes:
‘Leave to remain’ – some asylum seekers are given legal permission to stay in the UK as a refugee for five years, after which they can apply to settle in the UK permanently; some others are given Discretionary Leave to Remain, others Humanitarian Protection for 5 years. They can also work and claim income support and other benefits. Some asylum seekers are given Limited Leave to Remain under article 8 of the Human Rights Act for a variety of periods, typically 2 1/2 years. This group can work but have no recourse to public funds.
A refusal – In this case, the government may begin the process of removing the asylum seeker from the UK. Some are offered money to leave voluntarily, others are put in a detention centre and forced to leave.
Asylum seekers can appeal against a refusal if they do so within 14 days, at a cost of £80 upwards.
From where we stand
Based on our work, we think that the current system for claiming asylum leaves much to be desired:
Many of the asylum seekers we support live on as little as £5 a day– many cannot afford phone calls or bus fares, items we help with where we can. And if their claim is rejected, they have to leave government housing and forego financial support. While they wait to make a fresh claim, they are effectively destitute.
Many of the asylum seekers we support tell us they find it complex, inhumane and demoralising, regardless of personal outcome.