Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 November 2017, 15:02 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - United Kingdom

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 January 1999
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - United Kingdom , 1 January 1999, available at: [accessed 22 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

At the end of 1998, 74,025 cases of refugees and asylum seekers were in need of protection in the United Kingdom. These included 64,770 cases awaiting an initial decision, 3,910 cases who received temporary protection based on their asylum claims, and 5,345 cases who were granted asylum during the year.

During the year, 46,020 persons (excluding dependents) applied for asylum in the United Kingdom, the highest number of annual applications ever in the United Kingdom. The 59,130 applications pending an initial decision at year's end represent a 12 percent increase from the 1997 backlog of 51,795.

In July, the government announced an administrative reform to clear the huge backlog of asylum applications in a parliamentary 'White Paper' called "Fairer, Faster, Firmer – A Modern Approach to Immigration and Asylum." The government announced that asylum applicants who had applied before July 1993 and were still awaiting an initial decision – some 10,000 cases – would be given indefinite leave to remain (ILR) in the U.K. Applicants who applied between July 1993 and December 1995 – almost 26,000 cases – would be considered for exceptional leave to remain (ELR), an extendable one-year humanitarian status. At year's end, however, the vast majority of applicants who fell into these categories had not received notification from the government about their change in status.

The countries producing the largest number of asylum applications in the United Kingdom in 1998 were the former Yugoslavia (7,980), Somalia (4,685), Sri Lanka (3,505), the former Soviet Union (2,820), Afghanistan (2,395), and Turkey (2,105).

Of those who applied during the year, 22,665 applied in-country and 23,345 applied at the port of entry. The 1996 Asylum and Immigration Act entitled only those who applied at the port of entry to welfare and income support. Following charges that the 1996 Act caused in-country applicants to become destitute, the High Court ruled local authorities must support destitute asylum seekers who applied in-country.

Asylum approval rates in Britain decreased annually from 32 percent in 1989 to 6 percent in 1996. However, in 1998, the approval rate for the 26,720 cases decided after full consideration reached its highest rate ever at 20 percent. The government accorded refugee status to 86 percent of all Somali and Algerian applicants, 80 percent of former Yugoslav applicants, and 78 percent of Rwandan applicants.

In 1998, Britain granted "exceptional leave to remain" (ELR) to 15 percent of rejected asylum seekers, a slight increase over the 11 percent it granted in 1997. ELR is an extendable one-year protection from deportation based on unsettled home country conditions or other humanitarian grounds that the Home Office grants at its discretion to rejected applicants. Normally, failed asylum applicants only receive ELR if compelling humanitarian reasons exist for not enforcing their removal from the United Kingdom. The government has granted ELR to rejected applicants far less often in recent years. From 1986 to 1993, Britain accorded ELR to an average of 62 percent of all decided cases, but in the past four years, an average of 16 percent received it.

Asylum Procedure

The Asylum Division of the Home Office is responsible for all decisions relating to claims for asylum, whether made on arrival or after entry into the country, including the recognition of refugee status. The Immigration Service (or the Screening Unit of the Home Office's Asylum Division for in-country cases) first briefly interviews asylum seekers to ascertain their identity, immigration status, and, in the case of port applicants, whether they have been through a third country en route to the United Kingdom. Asylum seekers at ports of entry submit their applications to immigration officers, who must then refer them to the Home Office. Asylum seekers who apply "in country" submit their applications directly to the Asylum Division of the Home Office, and Asylum Division caseworkers interview them. The average decision time for asylum applications in 1998 was 17 months, compared to 22 months in 1998 and 17 months in 1996.

The government White Paper announced that from July 27 onward, all asylum applicants would have only five days to submit further written representations after the asylum interview. Previously, asylum case workers allowed 28 days for asylum applications they judged not to be "abusive" and five days for all others (including detained asylum seekers and in-country applicants).

In 1995, the government introduced a "shortened determination procedure," at first for selected in-country applicants, which allowed immigration officers or Asylum Screening Unit caseworkers to conduct full asylum interviews with applicants immediately after their asylum application, thus decreasing the waiting time for asylum interviews and increasing the number of interviews asylum officers conduct. In 1996, the government extended the shortened determination procedure's use to all asylum applicants (both in country and port), except for nationals from Afghanistan, Bosnia, Croatia, the Gulf states, Iran, Iraq, Liberia, Libya, Rwanda, Somalia, former Yugoslavia, and for Palestinians.

In 1998, the government applied the shortened procedure in most cases, making it the "normal" procedure for all except for the excluded nationalities mentioned above.

In July, the government White Paper changed the waiting period before refugees or applicants given ELR could get indefinite leave to remain (ILR) or settlement rights. Since July, recognized refugees automatically receive ILR concurrently. (Before the White Paper amendments, they waited for four years.) Persons granted ELR wait for four years. (Previously, they waited seven years.) People with ILR have equal rights with British citizens, except the right to vote, unless they come from a Commonwealth country.

Safe Third Country Cases

If an asylum applicant arrives from a third country that is party to the UN Refugee Convention and that has rejected the applicant's asylum claim, U.K. officials may return the person to that country without considering his or her asylum claim. The same procedure also applies to asylum seekers at U.S. ports of entry who have travelled through a third country where they could have applied for asylum, but did not.

The decision to return the applicant to a safe third country normally occurs within 24 hours of arrival; British officials deny "leave to enter" because the asylum claim is "certified" to be "without foundation."

Previously restricting it to the states of the European Union, the United Kingdom extended safe third country status to Canada, the United States, Norway, and Switzerland in the 1996 Act. The 1996 Act also denies to asylum seekers who travel through a safe third country the right to appeal refusal from within the United Kingdom. Instead, they have 28 days to appeal from the third country through which they transited. Refugee advocates said that the Act's deletion of suspension of removal pending appeal undermines an important safeguard against refoulement. UNHCR estimated that prior to the Act, roughly 40 percent of safe third country appeals in the United Kingdom were successful.

However, on September 1, 1997, the Dublin Convention came into effect in the EU, requiring positive documentary evidence that someone actually traveled through a third country before he or she could be returned there. In practice, the United Kingdom removes few asylum seekers on safe third country grounds because of this requirement.


Rejected asylum applicants, except those who are rejected on safe third country grounds, have the right to appeal their denials in several stages in the United Kingdom. Under the asylum appeals system set up in the 1993 Act, refused applicants who have not been "certified" have seven working days to lodge an appeal with independent special appeal adjudicators, who should officially deal with the appeal within 42 days. (This is often extended in practice.)

If the special appeal adjudicators decide that the cases are not unfounded, rejected claimants may apply for "leave" from the Immigration Appeal Tribunal or the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal may review the Tribunal's decision. However, if an asylum applicant applies at a port of entry, is "certified" following his or her asylum interview, detained, and handed the refusal decision personally, the applicant has only two days to appeal a negative decision.

Among other measures, the government White Paper proposed reforming the appeals procedure to one comprehensive right of appeal through new legislation in 1999.

Fast-Track Appeals Procedure

The 1996 Act extended the categories of appeal cases that may be "certified" as "without foundation" and thus heard under the fast-track procedure – officially within 10 days of the appeal submission. In practice, however, decisions can take up to six months.

Under the 1996 Act, the secretary of state, with parliamentary approval, designated Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ghana, India, Pakistan, Romania, and Poland as "not generally giving rise to a serious risk of persecution" – known as the "white list." Asylum seekers from those countries, except those who could show a "reasonable likelihood" that they had been tortured, are put into the fast-track appeals procedure. In its proposed legislation, the government promised to abolish the "white list," but to retain the fast track procedure.

Proposed Asylum Legislation

The White Paper proposed a radical overhaul of the support system for asylum seekers in the United Kingdom by removing welfare benefits from all asylum seekers. In place of welfare benefits, the paper proposed that a new national agency should be responsible for supporting asylum seekers in a largely cashless system that disperses asylum seekers throughout the country. In an attempt to address the growing problem of housing asylum seekers in London, the new system proposes that asylum seekers in need of support be given a no-choice offer of a support package outside London.

Refugee advocates warned that the proposals could lead to an even more chaotic system, and that moving asylum seekers out of London would distance them from community support, good legal representation, and specialized mental health treatment, such as torture survivors' services. Withholding cash from asylum seekers would create severe hardship and essentially marginalize asylum seekers from mainstream society.

Detention and Deportation

Asylum seekers who apply at ports of entry may be detained pending an interview with an immigration officer or pending a decision on their asylum application. Since 1993, the growth in the number of applicants claiming asylum at Britain's ports of entry has tripled the number of asylum seekers in detention. At any given time in 1998, some 750 asylum seekers were detained, either in immigration detention centers, regular prisons, or sometimes police cells. The average period of detention is about 65 days, but this has stretched beyond two years for some asylum seekers.

The government White Paper proposed that detention should be used more often at the end of the asylum process to ensure deportation after appellants are refused. The White Paper also proposed two new measures: to give detainees written reasons for their detention and to give them an automatic bail hearing after they have been detained for a week.

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