Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 February 2018, 16:20 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - United Kingdom

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 10 June 2002
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - United Kingdom , 10 June 2002, available at: [accessed 22 February 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.

At the end of 2001, the United Kingdom hosted more than 69,000 refugees and asylum seekers, according to provisional data published by the government. These included 39,400 cases awaiting an initial decision, 19,510 cases granted humanitarian status, and at least 10,960 cases granted asylum during the year.

Some 71,700 persons (excluding dependents) applied for asylum in 2001, a 10.7 percent drop from the 80,315 applications filed in 2000. The 39,400 applications pending an initial decision at year's end represent a 55 percent decrease from the 2000 backlog of 87,800.

The largest number of asylum seekers who filed applications in the United Kingdom in 2001 arrived from Afghanistan (9,190), Iraq (6,805), Somalia (6,500), Sri Lanka (5,545), Turkey (3,740), Iran (3,540), and Yugoslavia (3,190).

In 2001, the government made initial decisions on 118,195 cases, of which 96,010 were given full consideration. The approval rate for admissible first-instance decisions was 11.4 percent (10,960 cases), down from the 14.4 percent granted asylum in 2000. Of 43,415 decisions rendered at the appeal stage, an additional 8,155 cases were allowed to proceed on their merits. According to the government, the majority of cases "allowed" at the appeal stage are granted refugee status, although precise figures were not available.

In 2001, the United Kingdom granted "exceptional leave to remain" (ELR) to 23 percent of rejected asylum seekers' cases (19,510), an increase from the 16 percent granted in 2000. ELR is an extendable four-year protection from deportation, based on unsettled home-country conditions or other humanitarian grounds. Normally, failed asylum applicants only receive ELR if compelling humanitarian reasons exist for not enforcing their removal from the United Kingdom.

Asylum Procedure

The Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) of the Home Office is responsible for all decisions relating to asylum claims, whether made on arrival or after entry into the country, including the granting of refugee status. Asylum seekers can file their application either with an immigration service officer at a port, or with the screening unit of the IND in London, if they apply after entering the country. The IND or the immigration service screens asylum seekers to establish their identity and nationality, and takes their fingerprints.

Since April 2000, all new asylum applicants who are not immediately interviewed in full must complete in English a new form – Statement of Evidence Form (SEF) – which they must return to the IND within 14 days. Immigration officers or asylum caseworkers in the IND usually interview asylum seekers within a few weeks.

In 2001, some 21,480 asylum applicants were refused on "noncompliance" grounds, either because they submitted their SEF after the deadline, did not complete the form in full in English, or failed to attend – or were late for – their asylum interviews. In 1999, the year before the SEF requirement entered into force, only 1,085 refusals were issued on noncompliance grounds. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) charged that asylum seekers dispersed outside London faced difficulties in obtaining the information, legal advice, and interpreters needed to complete the forms within the tight two-week deadline, resulting in the high numbers of noncompliance refusals.

A new processing center in Oakington, Cambridge opened in March 2000 to process asylum seekers whose claims the government deemed to be "manifestly unfounded." Asylum applicants in the "semi-secure" center receive decisions on their claims within seven to ten days of arrival.

Asylum seekers are officially entitled to free legal advice and representation at all stages of the asylum procedure, including appeals, subject to testing of financial means and legal merit. However, since some applicants have their cases dealt with in a period of days – often while they are detained – they frequently cannot obtain legal assistance. In addition, asylum seekers accommodated outside London face difficulty in finding asylum or immigration law specialists. The government will not pay asylum seekers' travel expenses to visit legal advisers, many of whom are located in London.

IND interviewing officers have no obligation to inform applicants that they may seek legal assistance. All applicants are offered the services of an interpreter for their asylum interviews. In December 2000, the government introduced long-awaited "gender guidelines" for determination of gender-based persecution claims.

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

Safe-Third-Country Cases

Asylum applicants who have traveled through a European Union (EU) country, Canada, Iceland, 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 the applicant to a "safe third country" normally occurs within 24 hours of arrival.

The Immigration and Asylum Act (1999) holds that asylum seekers rejected on safe-third-country grounds must appeal the United Kingdom's decision from within the previous "safe" country. The act also prevents second-stage appeals (judicial review) of safe-third-country rulings. In December 2000, however, the House of Lords upheld a Court of Appeal ruling from July 1999 that said a Somali and an Algerian asylum seeker could not be sent back to Germany and France respectively because those countries do not recognize persecution by nonstate agents as a ground for asylum.


Rejected asylum applicants, except those who are rejected on safe-third-country grounds, have the right to appeal their denials in the United Kingdom in several stages. Appellants who have not been "certified" have seven working days to lodge an appeal with an independent special appeal adjudicator, who must decide the appeal within 42 days. (This time limit is often extended in practice, however.) If the adjudicator decides that the case is not unfounded, the rejected claimant may appeal to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal or the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal may review the Tribunal's decision.

In 2000, the government adopted the UN Human Rights Convention into domestic legislation – the Human Rights Act. Under the Immigration and Asylum Act, appellants may appeal on grounds arising directly from the European Convention on Human Rights, and have ten days to appeal to an independent adjudicator. If that appeal is unsuccessful, they have another ten days to appeal to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal or the Court of Appeal.

Support and Accommodations

Asylum seekers were accommodated and supported during the year within a controversial system created by the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act. Widely criticized by refugee advocates, the system eliminated welfare benefits for all asylum seekers and mandated that they be accommodated outside London and the southeast on a no-choice basis. A government agency, the National Asylum Support Service (NASS), became responsible for supporting asylum seekers with vouchers redeemable in certain stores.

Single asylum seekers without means of support were entitled to the equivalent of about $50 (35 pounds) per week, of which the equivalent of $14 (10 pounds) was redeemable as cash. Asylum seekers could not receive change for their vouchers at supermarkets, a hardship criticized by NGOs, unions, and even the supermarkets themselves.

The government secured accommodations for asylum seekers through local authority consortia and contracts with private landlords. Many of the asylum seekers were dispersed to areas in the north of England and Scotland, where low-cost and often poor-quality housing was readily available. Asylum seekers who left NASS accommodations forfeited their right to receive housing assistance.

Groups including the British Medical Association and the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture protested the voucher and forced dispersal programs during the year, charging that asylum seekers' physical health was suffering as a result of inadequate food, and that some victims of torture and other particularly vulnerable asylum seekers had no access to psychiatric care in the areas in which they had been assigned housing.

Additionally, asylum seekers faced racial abuse and violence in some towns and cities. In Glasgow, two Palestinian asylum seekers were brutally beaten by a gang in April, and a Turkish asylum seeker was stabbed to death in August.

In October, the Home Office announced that the voucher system would be phased out by autumn 2002, and that while the dispersal policy would remain, new reception and accommodation centers would be built for asylum seekers. Asylum seekers living outside of state-funded housing would be required to report periodically to "reporting centers," while removal centers would house detainees scheduled for deportation. In the short term, the government mandated that both the total value and the cash component of the vouchers would be increased, and that a new system for financial support of asylum seekers would be developed. Additionally, asylum seekers would be issued new identification cards containing biometric data, to reduce fraud in the system.

(In February 2002, the government issued a White Paper, "Secure Borders, Safe Haven," that elaborated upon these proposals and set forth a series of new proposals on the asylum procedure, security, detention, and refugee integration. The paper also proposed beginning a resettlement program of "quota" refugees in conjunction with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.)

Detention and Deportation

Under the 1971 Immigration Act, asylum seekers may be detained pending an interview with an immigration officer or pending a decision on their asylum application. The 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act increased the number of rejected asylum seekers detained pending deportation. At the end of 2001, some 1,400 asylum seekers were detained. The United Kingdom deported 9,285 rejected asylum seekers during the year.

The Refugee Council protested the intermingling of asylum seekers with criminals in prisons during 2001, referring to the government's detention practices as "inhumane and degrading." In August, some 30 asylum seekers in Cardiff prison went on a hunger strike for one week to protest their detention with convicted criminals.

In July, the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture charged that despite the government's pledge to treat asylum seekers who had suffered torture with particular care, some torture victims had been detained in prisons with common criminals.

Other Restrictive Measures

In response to the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, the Home Office in November declared a "public emergency," allowing the government a derogation from Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits detention without trial. In December, the government passed the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act. The new law, which was criticized by refugee advocates and human rights groups, enables the government to detain indefinitely, with limited judicial review, foreign nationals who have been certified by the Home Secretary as threats to national security or who are suspected of being terrorists. The legislation also denies persons suspected of being terrorists the right to seek asylum. On December 19, eight Arab men certified as terrorists were arrested under the new law.

Under the Immigration and Asylum Act, beginning on April 4, 2000, truck drivers traveling into the United Kingdom faced carrier's liability fines of the equivalent of about $2,900 (2,000 pounds) for each undocumented person found in their vehicles. During 2001, the government attempted to levy millions of pounds in fines on trucking companies, rail services, and the Eurotunnel company, which operates a train service through the Channel Tunnel. On December 5, however, the High Court upheld a complaint by 50 trucking companies and drivers, ruling that the 1999 law ran counter to provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, and that the fines represented "legislative overkill." The Home Office appealed the ruling.

Under the 1999 legislation, the government increased the number of airline liaison officers posted in airports around the world, and extended search and arrest powers to immigration officers. During 2001, human rights groups charged that airline liaison officers at the airport in Prague, Czech Republic discriminated against members of the Roma minority in carrying out checks on passengers boarding flights to the United Kingdom, ostensibly to prevent the departure of "fraudulent" asylum seekers. In July, the U.S. Committee for Refugees wrote to the British Ambassador to express concern that the airline checks could prevent legitimate Czech Roma asylum seekers from entering the United Kingdom to request protection. The British Embassy responded that "Czech citizens ... enjoy high standards of human rights protections" and that the British government does not regard the treatment of Roma in Czech society "as amounting to persecution within the terms of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention."

Clandestine Migration

In September, U.K. and French government officials agreed to toughen legal and security measures to prevent clandestine migration via the Channel Tunnel, through which thousands of illegal migrants, including asylum seekers, travel each year to the United Kingdom. Many asylum seekers prefer to apply for asylum in the United Kingdom, where persecution by nonstate agents can be considered grounds for asylum, unlike in France. Many asylum seekers also believe reception conditions to be better in the United Kingdom.

The U.K. government and the Eurotunnel company complained during the year that a Red Cross camp for asylum seekers in Sangatte, about 2 miles (3.2 km) from the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais, had become a magnet for illegal migrants who used the camp as a point of departure in order to stow away on cross-Channel trains. On December 25, some 500 asylum seekers attempted to storm the tunnel to walk to England through the 31-mile-long (50 km) passage. The overcrowded center was also the scene of several violent confrontations between residents during the year. The Eurotunnel company applied for an emergency injunction to close the center, but a French court rejected the application in September.

Migrants took desperate measures to enter the United Kingdom clandestinely during 2001. One man died after hiding in a jet wheel bay during a flight from Bahrain, while several groups attempted to cross the Channel in inflatable mattresses or children's toy rafts. Others hid underneath trucks and in compartments beneath the Eurostar train, which travels at speeds of up to 180 miles per hour.

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