U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2004 - United Kingdom

At the end of 2003, the United Kingdom hosted about 55,700 refugees and asylum seekers, including more than 31,900 applicants with cases pending and an estimated 23,800 persons granted asylum during the year, either on appeal (18,800) or at the first instance (5,000).

In 2003, some 64,200 persons applied for asylum, a 41 percent decrease from 2002 when 109,400 applied.

The largest number of asylum seekers arrived from Somalia (6,600), Iraq (5,200), China (4,500), Zimbabwe (4,300), Iran (3,700), Turkey (3,100), and Afghanistan (3,000). Among those granted asylum at the first instance, the largest numbers came from Somalia (2,200), Zimbabwe (1,100), Sudan, (170), Burundi (150), Iran (150), and Turkey (120).

In 2003, the government made initial decisions on around 84,000 applicants, of which about 69,500 were given full consideration. The remainder was refused on safe-third-country or noncompliance grounds. Authorities granted asylum to around 5,000 persons, or about 7 percent of applicants, at the first-instance level, lower than the 12 percent granted asylum in 2002. In addition, authorities granted some 5,200 persons exceptional leave to remain until April when the status was replaced with humanitarian protection and discretionary leave. The government granted humanitarian protection, and 4,000 discretionary leave.

Humanitarian protection is granted for up to three years to applicants with, if removed, a "serious risk to life or person arising from the death penalty, unlawful killing or torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." After three years, people with humanitarian protection can apply for permanent residence. Discretionary leave is granted for varying periods if an applicant cannot be removed. Both accord work rights and public assistance.

Of 150,900 applicants denied at the initial stage who sought to appeal, 80,000 were granted leave to do so and proceeded on the merits. According to the government, some 20,900 persons' appeals were allowed and, the year before, some 90 percent of such cases were granted. Assuming a similar approval rate for 2003, and about 18,800 persons were granted on appeal in 2003. The remainder was granted humanitarian protection or discretionary leave.

New Developments

During the year, restrictive provisions in legislation passed under the 2002 Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act (the NIA Act) came into force in the United Kingdom and new amendments were added. In November, the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Bill was introduced to Parliament with measures to further erode laws that protect asylum seekers.

Following record numbers of asylum applicants in 2002, the media fueled fears of Britain being over-run by asylum seekers during 2003. In February, the prime minister vowed to cut asylum claims in half by year's end, and in October, the government celebrated a 54 percent reduction compared to the same month in 2002. A September report by the UN Committee against Racial Discrimination protested "the increasing racial prejudice against ethnic minorities, asylum seekers and immigrants and the reported lack of effectiveness of the Press Complaints Commission in dealing with the issue." The following month, the Press Complaints Commission urged British journalists to stop using the term "illegal asylum seekers" and to avoid "misleading or distorted terminology" when reporting asylum issues.

From January 8, asylum seekers who had not claimed asylum "as soon as reasonably practicable" under the NIA Act were denied state support. A London government study estimated that the measure forced nearly 10,000 asylum seekers into destitution in London alone during the year. In October, a High Court judge reported over 800 cases challenging the legality of the provision in the courts. In December, a series of court battles between the government and refugee rights groups on behalf of destitute applicants concluded when the government announced that in order to access support, asylum seekers must apply within 72 hours of arrival.

Under the NIA Act, the Home Office added twice during the year to the list of countries it considers generally safe: Albania, Bulgaria, Jamaica, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, and Serbia and Montenegro in February; and Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, South Africa, Ukraine, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and northern Somalia (Somaliland) in July. Authorities automatically deemed asylum applications from such countries "clearly unfounded" and detained the applicants in the Oakington detention center. Applicants from countries deemed safe could only appeal from outside the UK.

With fewer applications during the year, the government reduced the number of asylum cases awaiting an initial decision from 52,600 at the end of 2002 to 31,900 at year's end. In October, the government announced an amnesty for some 15,000 asylum seeking families who had applied before October 2000. Most of the families are from Kosovo, former Yugoslavia, and Turkey.

At year's end, over 77,000 asylum seekers received support or accommodation from the government's National Asylum Support Service (NASS). Of these, more than 30,000 chose not be dispersed to NASS accommodations across the country, preferring to live with friends or family in London and the southeast. In July, the government refused to publish in full the findings of an independent review of NASS, but a summary made public criticized the organization's lack of strategy and poor coordination with other agencies, and called for fewer regular processing errors adversely affecting asylum seekers.

Strong public resistance hindered setting up new induction and accommodation centers for asylum seekers, as outlined in the NIA Act 2002. By year's end, officials had secured only three induction centers and one accommodation center.

At year's end, some 1,300 asylum seekers were in detention under 1971 Immigration Act powers, up from 800 at the end of 2002. In April and August, the chief inspector of prisons published reports condemning poor treatment of asylum seekers in detention. The reports detailed detainees' complaints of strip-searching and sexual harassment in several facilities, while calling a center near Heathrow airport in London "unsafe" for both workers and detainees due to high violence and insufficient staff. In Scotland, UK officials were criticized for detaining children at Dungavel detention center, which the report described as unfit to house and educate children.

The government deported over 17,000 rejected asylum seekers during the year, up from 13,300 in 2002. In April, the government deported a group of 30 Afghans; a measure criticized by Amnesty International and refugee groups who stated that conditions in Afghanistan were not yet conducive to return. Only 39 Afghans participated in an August 2002 six-month assisted voluntary repatriation program.

During the year, the United Kingdom imposed transit visa requirements on travelers passing through Britain from Albania, Algeria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Burma, Burundi, China, Gambia, Ghana, India, Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia, Macedonia, Moldova, Nepal, Pakistan, Palestine, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Vietnam. Officials claimed that the measure would prevent nationals of such countries from making unfounded applications for asylum, reporting that increasing numbers of people transiting in Britain destroyed their documents and claimed asylum.

During the year, the United Kingdom did not resettle any refugees under an overseas program agreed with UNHCR in 2002. However, government officials announced that a group of some 1,000 West Africans, mostly Liberians, would travel to the United Kingdom under the program in 2004.

Although rejected in June by other EU countries, in March, Britain proposed "asylum zones" outside of the EU where asylum seekers' claims would be adjudicated or where refugees would be housed until the crises causing their flight ended, blocking them from entering the EU.

In November the government introduced new legislation, the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Bill, that included proposals to restrict asylum seekers' access to appeals, create new jail sentences for people who arrive in Britain without proper documents, increase government powers to remove asylum applicants on safe third country grounds, and reduce to five hours the amount of free legal assistance given to each applicant. Despite general public support for stricter government laws against asylum seekers, British media criticized a measure in the proposals to take the children of denied asylum seekers into state care if their parents refused to accept voluntary repatriation. The legislation is likely to be enacted in fall 2004.

(In March, following strong opposition from the House of Lords, the government withdrew a measure in the new legislation that would have removed asylum seekers' right to a judicial review of the appeal process.)


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