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Refugees FAQ

Who is a refugee?

In Article 1 of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee is defined as someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, or membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling, to avail himself of the protection of that country.”  That means that in international law, a person must leave their own country; those who do not cross an international boundary are called Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s).

What is the difference between a refugee and asylum seeker?

In international law, a refugee is entitled to certain rights; education, work, housing and access to social services just like everyone else.  They also have the right not to be sent back to a country they are not safe in.  However, when a person first arrives in the UK they do not automatically receive these rights (for example they are initially denied the right to work to support themselves and their families), and first must undergo a long and complex legal process to achieve refugee status.  During this period, which can take months or even years, the person is known as an asylum seeker.  These applications are not always granted, and if a person is refused asylum they are either returned (voluntarily or forcibly) to the country they fled or face destitution as their financial support is cut.  If a person is granted asylum, they become a refugee in UK law and are initially granted leave to remain in the UK for 5 years.  After this time if things have not improved significantly they are eligible to settle in the UK (indefinite leave to remain).

Why does Britain take so many asylum seekers?

Britain takes refugees because these people have been forced to flee their home countries (see below).  Although some sections of the media make it seem like the UK takes most of the world’s refugees, 80% of asylum seekers remain within their region of origin.  Less than 8 ½ thousand people applied for asylum in the UK between January and March 2009, and in total Britain takes less than 2% of the world’s refugees, ten times less than many British people think.  In fact, based on its wealth, size and population, the UK ranks only 32nd in the world for hosting refugees.

Where are refugees from?

In 2007, 67 million people were forcibly displaced from their homes.  Countries which generated the most refugees were Afghanistan and Iraq, which generated almost half of all refugees, as well as countries like Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Colombia. However, most refugees stay in neighbouring ‘host’ countries, like Pakistan, Syria and Iran.  In the UK, most asylum applications were received from Afghanistan, Iran and ChinaAlmost 60% were refused asylum, with only 29% granted asylum and 12% granted Humanitarian Protection or Discretionary Leave to remain in the UK.

Why do they come here?

People seek asylum because they fear for their lives and safety, not to take advantage of Britain’s “soft” immigration policies; in fact, recent research has shown that most did not come to the UK out of choise and know nothing about Britain’s asylum laws.  Asylum seekers are not allowed to work, have to live on around £35 a week and have no choice where to live whilst they wait, often for months or even years, to have their claims processed.  A Home Office study showed that people often seek refuge in the UK because they see it as safe, democratic and tolerant, because they had family or friends here, spoke English or were from a former UK colony.

Want to find out more?

Come along to our meetings and hear talks from STAR members and volunteers, have a look at the national STAR website, the Scottish Refugee Council, Refugee Action, or the United Nations Refugee Agency.

Have we left anything out? Let us know at starglasgow@googlemail.com

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