A foreign national who faces the threat of serious harm in their own country may be able to claim asylum in the UK. The main legal document concerning the treatment of asylum seekers, or refugees, around the world is the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951. A successful asylum seeker may be given leave to remain in the UK for five years.
The UK has a long history of giving sanctuary to foreign nationals who have been persecuted in their own country. However, in recent years there has been public concern at so-called “bogus” asylum seekers whose real motivation for coming to the UK is to exploit the benefits and economic opportunities available here. As a consequence there has been a general tightening of the rules around asylum.
Definition of Refugee
A person is defined as a refugee by the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees if:
- He or she is outside of their own country;
- Has a well-founded fear that they will face persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a social group or political opinion; and,
- Cannot, or will not, rely on protection by the country of their origin.
Who is Eligible to Claim Asylum in the UK?
Foreign nationals or stateless people who fear persecution as defined by the UN Convention may claim asylum in the UK. They must do so in person and must be in the UK to claim asylum here. A person who has previously been harmed or persecuted but who no longer faces that threat does not qualify for refugee status under the UN Convention.
How and When to Claim Asylum
Asylum may be claimed as soon as the foreign national enters the UK. If so it will be claimed at the port of entry. Asylum is claimed by simply telling an immigration official that the individual wishes to claim asylum. Once this notice is given the asylum process will begin.
If asylum is claimed at a later stage it should be done at an asylum screening unit. Units are located in Croydon and Liverpool. The individual will then be registered as an asylum seeker and begin the asylum application procedure. If a person has spent some time in the UK and only applies for asylum at a later date this may count against them when their application is considered.
Applicants who have travelled from the country in which they claim that they face persecution to the UK via another European Union or “safe” country may be returned there by UK immigration authorities to make their asylum application. The reasoning behind this is that the asylum seeker no longer faced persecution once they were in the other European Union or safe country.
How Asylum Seekers are Treated While Their Application is Being Processed
Once an individual has claimed asylum they will usually be given temporary leave to enter and remain in the UK. They may be allowed to live freely and provided with support and / or housing by the government. However, in some cases asylum seekers may be held in detention while their application is processed.
The status of asylum seekers may be further complicated by the fact that it is almost impossible to have entered the UK legally as a refugee or asylum seeker even in cases where the individual managed to obtain an immigrant visa before coming to the UK.
The European Convention on Human Rights
The UK is bound by European Human Rights law which means that they have a legal duty not to send someone back to a country where they may be tortured or subjected to inhumane treatment or punishment. In some cases an individual who does not qualify for refugee status may be given discretionary leave to remain in the UK pursuant to the European Convention on Human Rights.
Foreign nationals given leave to remain under this legislation will usually be allowed to stay in the UK for three years. After the three years have elapsed the authorities will consider whether or not the individual needs to stay in the UK.