Refuge and Asylum

Since the end of the Second World War the United Kindom has developed into a popular immigrant destination. This also holds true for asylum seekers. Rising numbers of asylum applications in the 1990s have led to the introduction of more restrictive policies designed to deter asylum seekers from lodging a claim.

Hotel in Folkestone used to house asylum seekers: 23,507 asylum applications were made in 2013; only 37 percent of 17,647 initial decisions taken that year were granted.

British refugee policy is governed by the United Nations convention relating to the status of refugees and its 1967 protocol, which the UK has signed. Until the late 1980s, the UK was not a popular destination for asylum seekers. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) statistics, in 1988 only 5,700 people lodged applications for asylum. This situation changed in the 1990s: applications rose sharply, reaching a peak of almost 100,000 in 2000, and the UK overtook Germany as the most popular destination for asylum seekers in Europe. Migration once again rose to the top of the political agenda, and the tabloids led a demonic campaign against “scrounging” asylum seekers.

In response to this pressure, the UK adopted a range of measures designed to deter asylum seekers, including reduced social benefits, time limits for lodging applications, the declaring of British airports to be international zones, [1] reduced appeal rights, and the fast-tracking of claims deemed “manifestly unfounded.” The UK also participates in European efforts to harmonize asylum policy, including the Dublin conventions requiring asylum seekers to apply for refugee status in the first EU state they reach. In recent years, the number of asylum applications has fallen dramatically. In 2006 applications were at their lowest level since 1993, and most initial decisions were made within two months of application. 23,507 asylum applications were made in 2013; only 37 percent of 17,647 initial decisions taken that year were granted.

Figure 4: Asylum claims (main applicants) in the UK, 1987-2013 Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/ (bpb)

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By declaring airports to be international zones—and not UK territory—access to asylum is reduced, as passengers arriving at the airports cannot claim asylum in the UK if they are not on UK territory.

Randall Hansen

About the author

Randall Hansen

Dr. Randall Hansen is Full Professor at the Canada Research Chair in Immigration and Governance, and Director of the Centre for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at the University of Toronto, Canada. r.hansen@utoronto.ca

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