You can’t apply for asylum in the UK through the UNHCR

10 May 2023
What was claimed

People fleeing Sudan for humanitarian reasons should apply through the UNHCR if they want to seek asylum in the UK.

Our verdict

The UK does receive some refugees through resettlement schemes operated by the UNHCR. But there is no application process for these schemes, and it’s not possible to apply through the UNHCR to seek asylum specifically in the UK.

"If you are someone who is fleeing Sudan for humanitarian reasons there are various mechanisms you can use. The UNHCR is present in the region and they are the right mechanism by which people should apply if they do want to seek asylum in the United Kingdom."

"The best advice clearly would be for individuals to present to the UNHCR. The UK, like many countries, works closely with the UNHCR and we already operate safe and legal routes in partnership with it. That safe and legal route is available today."

Responding to questions over how Sudanese nationals fleeing fighting in the country might be able to come to the UK, home secretary Suella Braverman MP and immigration minister Robert Jenrick MP both advised people to apply through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

In an interview with Sky News on 26 April, Ms Braverman said: “The UNHCR is present in the region and they are the right mechanism by which people should apply if they do want to seek asylum in the United Kingdom”.

During a debate in the House of Commons later that day, in response to a question about what safe and legal routes exist for a young person in Sudan who is fleeing violence and wants to come to the UK, Mr Jenrick said: “The best advice clearly would be for individuals to present to the UNHCR.”

Following these comments, the UNHCR issued a statement stating that “there is no mechanism through which refugees can approach UNHCR with the intention of seeking asylum in the UK”.

As the UNHCR has outlined, there are “minimal” routes by which vulnerable refugees from countries other than Afghanistan can be resettled in the UK, but none by which people fleeing violence in Sudan can “apply” for asylum in the UK specifically through the UNHCR, as Ms Braverman appeared to suggest. In other words, they cannot ask the UNHCR to be resettled in the UK rather than in another country.

A refugee is someone who has been granted refugee status. An asylum seeker, meanwhile, is someone who has applied to be recognised as a refugee. You must be physically in the UK in order to apply for asylum here.

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How does the UK resettle people?

The UK currently operates three resettlement schemes, through which the UNHCR identifies people eligible for resettlement in the UK, and refers cases to the Home Office for consideration.

Mr Jenrick referenced this relationship shortly after his initial comments in Parliament, saying: “the UNHCR selects individuals who have registered with it and to whom it has given refugee status to go to other countries on existing safe and legal routes. It currently has discretion as to who it puts in the direction of the United Kingdom.”

The UNHCR says: “There is no application process for resettlement – refugees at heightened risk are identified by the UNHCR through our ongoing protection programmes in countries of asylum. Currently, new resettlement opportunities to the UK for nationalities other than Afghans are minimal.” 

According to the refugee agency, since 2015 around 28,000 refugees have arrived in the UK through UK resettlement schemes operated in partnership with UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration. Of these, approximately 4.1% have been Sudanese refugees.

The UK also operates schemes specifically for Afghan, Ukrainian and Hong Kong nationals, as well as a family reunion route for close family members of people who have already been granted protection in the UK, which is open to all nationalities.

According to the government, between 2015 and 2022 approximately 481,804 people were offered routes to the UK through its various schemes.

However, as the UNHCR notes, unless you qualify for protection under an existing resettlement scheme, for refugees and asylum seekers “there are no safe and regular routes by which to travel to the UK, including for the purpose of seeking asylum.”

This means that while Mr Jenrick is correct to say the UNHCR can identify people to recommend for resettlement in the UK, both he and Ms Braverman are wrong to suggest that Sudanese nationals fleeing their country can apply to come to the UK specifically through the agency.

We asked the Home Office about Ms Braverman and Mr Jenrick’s comments, and were told that Sudanese nationals who wish to come to the UK will require a valid UK visa.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We have no plans to open a bespoke resettlement route for Sudan. Preventing a humanitarian emergency in Sudan is our focus right now. Alongside the UK evacuation effort, we are working with international partners and the United Nations to bring an end to fighting.

“Since 2015 we have offered a safe and legal route to the UK to almost half a million people seeking safety but our approach must be considered in the round, rather than on a crisis-by-crisis basis.”

If an MP makes a false or misleading claim, they should take responsibility for ensuring it is appropriately corrected, and make efforts to ensure the correction is publicly available to anyone who might have heard the claim.

We’ve written about a number of other claims made by government ministers, including Ms Braverman, relating to asylum seekers and refugees over recent months.

Image courtesy of UK Government

We deserve better than bad information.

After publishing this fact check, we contacted the Home Secretary to request a correction regarding this claim. 

The Home Office replied to confirm that there is no provision within our Immigration Rules for someone to be allowed to travel to the UK to seek asylum or temporary refuge but Ms Braverman has not made a correction.

We also contacted Sky News to request a correction. 

Sky News said it would raise the issues we highlighted with their editorial teams.

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