Last Updated: Monday, 15 January 2018, 13:43 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - United Kingdom

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2000
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - United Kingdom , 1 June 2000, available at: [accessed 16 January 2018]
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.

United Kingdom

At the end of 1999, more than 112,000 refugees and asylum seekers were in need of protection in the United Kingdom. These included 102,870 asylum applicants awaiting an initial decision, 2,110 who received temporary protection based on their asylum claims, and 7,075 applicants granted asylum during the year.

Some 71,160 persons (excluding dependents) applied for asylum in 1999, the highest annual total ever in the United Kingdom. The 102,870 applications pending an initial decision at year's end represented a 174 percent increase from the 1998 backlog of 59,130.

In November, the government enacted the Immigration and Asylum Act of 1999, which changes the way asylum seekers will be supported after April 2000. After November, "interim arrangements" for supporting asylum seekers took effect, increasing the number of applicants supported outside London.

The largest number of asylum seekers who filed applications in 1999 arrived from former Yugoslavia (14,185), Somalia (7,495), Sri Lanka (5,125), the former Soviet Union (4,100), Afghanistan (3,980), and Turkey (2,655).

Of those who applied during the year, 41,700 applied in the country's interior – in-country – and 29,455 applied at a port of entry. Legislation in 1996 entitled only those who applied at a port of entry to welfare and income support. Following public outcry concerning the resulting destitution for in-country applicants, the High Court made local authorities responsible for supporting destitute asylum seekers who applied in-country.

Asylum approval rates in the United Kingdom decreased annually from 32 percent in 1989 to six percent in 1996. However, in 1999, the approval rate for the 16,920 cases decided after full consideration ("after full consideration" excludes those refused on "safe third country" and non compliance grounds) reached its highest rate ever at 42 percent.

In 1999, the United Kingdom granted "exceptional leave to remain" (ELR) to 12 percent of rejected asylum seekers, a slight decrease from the 15 percent granted in 1998. ELR is an extendable one-year protection from deportation, based on unsettled home-country conditions or other humanitarian grounds. Normally, failed asylum applicants receive ELR only if compelling humanitarian reasons exist for not enforcing their removal. The government has granted ELR to rejected applicants far less in recent years; from 1986 to 1993, the United Kingdom accorded ELR to an average of 62 percent of all decided cases, but in the past five years, an average of 15 percent received it.

In an attempt to reduce pending asylum applications, the government created a backlog clearance exercise in July 1998 for applications filed before December 1995. During 1999, adjudicators made 12,460 decisions under this exercise, of which 11,230 were granted exceptional leave to stay.

Asylum Procedure

The Asylum Directorate 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 traveled 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 initial asylum applications in October 1999 was 27 months, the longest ever.

The Home Office determines most asylum applications as "manifestly unfounded" and considers such cases under a "short procedure" – interviewing applicants either on the date of their claim or shortly afterwards. The Home Office generally uses the full status determination procedure for unaccompanied minors and citizens of the former Yugoslavia, Bosnians, Croatians, Afghans, Iranians, Iraqis, citizens of the Gulf states (except Kuwait), Rwandans, Somalis, Libyans, and Palestinians.

Asylum applicants have five days to submit supporting documents after the asylum interview.

Applicants accorded refugee status receive settlement rights, "Indefinite Leave to Remain" (ILR). Persons granted ELR must wait four years before receiving ILR. People with ILR have rights equivalent to those of British citizens, except the right to vote (unless they come from a Commonwealth country).

Safe Third Country Cases

Asylum applicants who have traveled through a European Union (EU) state, Canada, the United States, Switzerland, or Norway, may be refused entry and removed from the United Kingdom without having their claims considered at all. The decision to return an applicant to a safe third country generally occurs within 24 hours of arrival.

In August 1999, after two landmark cases, the High Court ruled that an asylum seeker cannot be returned to a third country that has a significantly different interpretation of the refugee definition, such as the German interpretation that only victims of government agents of persecution can qualify as refugees. This ruling was superseded by the Immigration and Asylum Act of 1999, which states that safe third country rulings will not be open to judicial review.


Rejected asylum applicants, except those who are rejected on safe third country grounds, have the right to appeal their denials in several stages. Under the asylum appeals system, a refused applicant who has not been "certified" has seven work days to lodge an appeal with an independent special appeals adjudicator, who must decide the appeal within 42 days. (This is often extended in practice, however.)

If the adjudicator decides that the case is not unfounded, the rejected claimant 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 the asylum interview, detained, and handed the refusal decision personally, the applicant has only two days to appeal a negative decision.

New Asylum Legislation

The Immigration and Asylum Act of 1999 radically overhauls the support system for asylum seekers in the United Kingdom by removing welfare benefits from all asylum seekers. In place of welfare benefits, a new national agency, the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) within the Home Office, is responsible for supporting asylum seekers in a largely cashless system that disperses asylum seekers outside London.

Refugee advocates warned 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, they said.

Other measures in the act include the extension of "carriers' liability" fines to all forms of transport into the United Kingdom; the regulation of immigration advisers; and the extension of search and arrest powers to immigration officers.

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. At any given time in 1999, some 800 asylum seekers were detained, either in immigration detention centers, regular prisons, or local jail cells. The average period of detention is about 65 days, but detention has stretched beyond two years in some cases.

The act increases the use of detention at the end of the asylum process, as a precursor to deportation after appellants are refused. However, the act also states that by October 2000, detainees will receive written reasons for their detention, and an automatic bail hearing after they have been detained for one week.

Kosovo Albanians

In 1999, 4,346 Kosovar Albanians from Macedonia, and 61 medical evacuees were given one year's temporary protection (exceptional leave to enter) in the United Kingdom under the UN High Commissioner for Refugees humanitarian evacuation program. The government set up a voluntary return program, through which some 1,417 Kosovars returned. In September, the government announced an "explore and prepare" package for Kosovars, which enabled 70 heads of households to return to Kosovo to assess conditions for repatriation and to re-enter the United Kingdom without jeopardizing their temporary status.

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