Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - United Kingdom

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2003
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - United Kingdom , 1 June 2003, available at: [accessed 19 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 2002, the United Kingdom hosted about 79,200 refugees and asylum seekers, including more than 52,600 applicants with cases pending, and an estimated 26,500 persons granted asylum during the year, either on appeal (16,100) or at the first instance (10,400).

In 2002, some 111,000 persons applied for asylum, a 20 percent increase from 2001 when 92,900 applied, and the highest number of applications ever received in the United Kingdom.

The largest number of asylum seekers arrived from Iraq (19,400), Zimbabwe (10,000), Afghanistan (9,600), Somalia (8,700), and China (4,900). Among those granted asylum, the largest numbers came from Somalia (3,200), Zimbabwe (2,900), Iraq (900), Iran (500), and Sri Lanka (400).

In 2002, the government made initial decisions on around 106,600 applicants, of which about 89,600 were given full consideration. The remainder was refused on safe-third-country or non-compliance grounds. Authorities approved around 10,500 persons, or about 12 percent of applicants, at the first-instance level, similar to 2001.

Of 83,000 applicants denied at the initial stage who sought to appeal, 17,900 were granted leave to do so and proceeded on the merits. According to the government, about 90 percent of these cases were granted asylum, resulting in an estimated 16,100 persons granted refugee status after appeals in 2002. The remaining 10 percent (1,800) were granted "exceptional leave to remain" (ELR).

New Legislation

The government enacted the Nationality, Immigration, and Asylum Act 2002 (the NIA Act) on November 8.

Among other things, the NIA Act denies accommodations and public assistance to those who do not apply immediately upon entry. It also reintroduced a "white list" of countries, the asylum applications of whose nationality are deemed inadmissible, and it enhanced the government's powers to detain and remove. The NIA Act allows for new reception, accommodation, and removal centers for asylum seekers, increased penalties for trafficking and employment of undocumented workers, and expanded carriers' liability. The law introduced new citizenship criteria such as English proficiency, increased funds for refugee integration, and included a refugee resettlement program in conjunction with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees – due to start on April 1, 2003 with provision for 500 refugees to be resettled in the first year.

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. Either the IND or the immigration service screens asylum seekers to establish their identity and nationality, and takes their fingerprints.

Under the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act, all new asylum applicants who are not immediately interviewed in full (i.e., those who do not apply at a port of entry) must complete, in English, a new form – the 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, and notify applicants of their decision in writing.

In 2002, some 15,600 asylum applicants were refused for non-compliance, 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 1,100 refusals were issued for non-compliance. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) complained that asylum seekers dispersed outside London faced difficulties in obtaining the information, legal advice, and interpreters needed to complete the forms within the deadline.

Asylum seekers are entitled to free legal advice and representation, subject to means testing and legal merit, at all stages of the procedure, including appeals. However, since the IND deals with some cases in a matter of days – often while the applicants are detained – asylum seekers frequently cannot use the assistance available. IND interviewing officers also have no obligation to inform applicants that legal assistance is available. All applicants are offered the services of an interpreter for their asylum interviews.

Applicants accorded refugee status receive "indefinite leave to remain (ILR)," including rights equivalent to those of citizens.

Humanitarian Protection

In 2002, IND granted ELR to 28 percent of asylum seekers (about 25,800 persons) whose cases were considered on the merits, up from 20 percent of cases in 2001. 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. Because they have been found not to be refugees, the U.S. Committee for Refugees does not count them as such.

In November, the government announced that in April 2003, ELR would be replaced with "humanitarian protection." According to the Home Office, IND will grant this protection for up to three years to applicants who would, if removed, face in the country of return a "serious risk to life or person arising from the death penalty, unlawful killing or torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." After the three years they will reassess recipients' needs.


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 whose claims are not deemed manifestly unfounded have seven working days to appeal with an independent adjudicator, who must decide the appeal within 42 days, although the time limit is often extended. 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. U.K. law includes provision to appeal decisions on grounds arising directly from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which prohibits return to a country where even a non-refugee might risk torture.

Under the NIA Act, appeals will not suspend removal if filed by people with applications deemed "manifestly unfounded" and those from the ten European Union (EU) accession states (Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, the Slovak Republic, and Slovenia). The NIA Act also removes full judicial review rights for appellants who are refused leave to appeal to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal. Such appellants have only administrative appeal rights to a High Court judge rather than the ability to challenge the legal process of the decision.

Conditions for Asylum Seekers

Previously, applicants whose cases were delayed six months or more could request permission to work or undertake vocational training. On July 23, the government denied new asylum applicants the right to work altogether, despite the cost of supporting asylum seekers and public support for asylum seekers to be self-sufficient. However, the government argued that most decisions were made before six months (84 percent of decisions during 2002), and it considered work permission to be a pull-factor to the United Kingdom for asylum seekers.

Asylum seekers were housed and supported during the year in a controversial system created by the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act. The system eliminated public assistance for all asylum seekers and banished them from London and the southeast. The System made a government agency, the National Asylum Support Service (NASS), responsible for supporting asylum seekers.

The government got housing 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 housing was readily available.

With the NIA Act, the government announced that it would build or rent controversial new induction centers (where applicants would stay for the initial seven days in the country and would receive briefings about the asylum process and health screening) and some 10 to 15 accommodation centers (where applicants would move after their induction until they receive a decision on their claim) across the country. Parliament and NGOs strongly opposed establishing large centers in isolated locations. In particular, refugee agencies, child protection organizations, teaching unions, and others protested government plans to prevent children in the centers from going to mainstream schools.

Public demonstrations also thwarted Home Office planning applications for new induction and accommodation centers during the year. At year's end, the government had opened only one pilot induction center, in the southeast, but had not identified even one accommodation center.

Under the NIA Act, asylum seekers living outside of state-funded housing were required to report periodically, but the law also allowed for payment of travel costs.

Xenophobic violence in the United Kingdom did not spare asylum seekers. In August, an asylum seeker was stabbed to death in the northern city of Sunderland. On December 4, a Kurdish family of asylum seekers who suffered "sustained and serious" abuse in Glasgow, Scotland brought a High Court legal challenge against the dispersal policy after NASS refused them accommodation outside Glasgow, and cut their welfare support when the family moved to London without NASS consent. At year's end, the legal action was ongoing.

On April 8, following two-year campaigns by NGOs, unions, and refugee advocates, the government replaced vouchers that few stores would accept with vouchers redeemable for cash. At the same time, voucher entitlements increased by the equivalent of about $3 (£2) per week. Previously, asylum seekers without means of support could only redeem the equivalent of about $14 (£10) of their about $50 (£35) per week allowance. The remaining vouchers were redeemable only in participating stores (without change).

During the year, the government extended the grace period to leave NASS housing from 14 to 21 days for applicants who were denied, and from 14 to 28 days for those who were granted.

Several groups published reports documenting asylum seekers' poverty, poor health, isolation, and experience of racial abuse and violence during the year. An NGO survey of organizations providing support to asylum seekers found that more than three-quarters reported that their clients regularly experienced hunger, could not afford to buy clothes or shoes, and were not able to maintain good health.

(On January 8, 2003 refugee groups challenged under the ECHR section 55 of the NIA Act, which removed housing and support for asylum seekers who do not apply for asylum "as soon as reasonably practicable." On February 19, the challenge was upheld by the High Court in the United Kingdom, which ruled that the Home Office must restore such basics. On March 19, the Court of Appeal upheld the ruling, ordering the Home Office to interpret the law more compassionately, but holding that denying support to asylum seekers who do not apply for asylum on arrival was not contrary to the "right to respect for private and family life" and the prohibition against "inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" in the ECHR.)

Safe-Third-Country Cases

Asylum applicants who have traveled through a 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 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act holds that asylum seekers rejected on safe-third-country grounds must appeal the United Kingdom's decision from within the previous country. The NIA Act also prevents 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 non-state agents as a ground for asylum.

Detention, Deportation, and Repatriation

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. Since the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act, the government has increased the number of rejected asylum seekers it detains pending deportation. At the end of 2002, about 800 asylum seekers were in detention during some stage of their asylum procedure.

A processing center in Oakington, Cambridge opened in March 2000 to process asylum seekers whose claims the government deemed to be manifestly unfounded. Asylum applicants detained in the center receive decisions on their claims within seven to ten days of arrival. During the year, a group of Iraqi Kurdish asylum seekers challenged the legality of detaining asylum seekers during an accelerated procedure in Oakington under the right to "liberty and security of person" enshrined in the ECHR. On September 7, the High Court ruled in their favor, but on October 31, the House of Lords overturned this decision, ruling that detention in Oakington was not unlawful.

During the year, rights groups criticized the detention of asylum seekers, particularly children and families. The government has 150 family spaces for immigration detainees. In April, Scottish parliamentary members criticized the detention of 15 children in Dungavel removal center. Detainees also protested their incarceration during the year. On February 14, fire partially destroyed a new asylum seekers' detention center in Yarl's Wood following riots by detainees.

The NIA Act emphasized the control and removal of unsuccessful asylum applicants. It changed the name of "detention centers" to "removal centers," gave increased rights to immigration officers to enter rejected applicants' premises and remove them, imposed requirements on asylum seekers to report to police stations periodically, and removed detainees' automatic right to bail hearings, which was written into the1999 law, but never implemented.

The government started the year with an aim to increase deportations to 30,000 rejected asylum applicants. However, they only deported 13,300.

The NIA Act provides for an extension of the United Kingdom's voluntary repatriation programs for asylum seekers operated through NGOs such as the International Organization for Migration and Refugee Action. In August, the Home Office launched a six-month voluntary repatriation program for Afghan asylum seekers who received the equivalent of about $900 (£600) per person.

Other Restrictive Measures

In December 2001, in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, the government passed the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act. The new law 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 suspected terrorists the right to seek asylum. On July 29, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission ruled that the law was unfair and discriminatory. However, the Court of Appeal overturned the ruling on October 25, holding that foreigners do not have the same rights as citizens in this regard. At year's end, 13 out of almost 300 people who had been arrested under the NIA Act remained detained.

Since 1987, the United Kingdom has imposed carrier's liability fines on airlines. Since 2000, truck drivers traveling into the United Kingdom also faced fines of the equivalent of about $2,900 (£2,000) for each undocumented person found in their vehicles.

On December 5, 2001, the High Court upheld a complaint by 50 trucking companies and drivers, ruling that the 1999 law ran counter to provisions of "the right to a fair trial" and "the right to protection of property" in the ECHR. The Court of Appeal upheld the ruling. Following its defeat in the courts, the government introduced on December 10 a new penalty regime that took into account efforts made by drivers to prevent undocumented persons getting aboard and introduced a right of appeal for those fined. The regime stated that "all responsible people" should be fined, including the driver, owner, and operator of the vehicle. On December 12, the government announced that it would waive unpaid truck drivers' liability fines levied before December 9, but would not reimburse penalties already paid which amounted to the equivalent of about $2.7 million (£1.9 million).

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. On October 8, a High Court judge dismissed the complaint, saying that the UN Refugee Convention did not preclude immigration controls. The groups appealed the decision.

On November 9, the United Kingdom imposed visa requirements on persons from Zimbabwe, despite having suspended deportations to the country in January in recognition of the country's instability. The government discussed readmission agreements with Albania, Bulgaria, and Romania during the year, but none were enacted by year's end.

Clandestine Migration

In January, United Kingdom immigration officials were posted at a Paris train station to check the travel documents of London-bound Eurostar passengers. In March, an Anglo-French agreement toughened security measures on freight trains to prevent clandestine migration by way of the Channel Tunnel, through which thousands of illegal migrants, including asylum seekers, travel each year to the United Kingdom.

The U.K. and French governments reached agreement during the year to close a controversial Red Cross camp for asylum seekers in Sangatte, about 2 miles (3.2 km) from the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais. The camp had become a magnet for undocumented migrants who used it as a point of departure in order to stow away on cross-Channel trains. Following closure of the camp in December, the United Kingdom granted work visas and temporary residence to 1,000 Iraqis and 200 Afghans from the camp, a move criticized by refugee groups who charged that it blurred the definitions of economic migrants and refugees.

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