How many refugees does the UK resettle compared to other European countries?

17 May 2023
What was claimed

For resettlement schemes, the UK is second only to Sweden. For taking people from the United Nations, the UK ranks fourth in the world.

Our verdict

The UK is second only to Sweden among EU+ countries in the number of refugees accepted through official resettlement schemes, and fourth in the world. However, other European countries have resettled more refugees relative to their populations, as well as more asylum seekers.

“These are very large numbers by historical and European standards, for resettlement schemes, we’re second only to Sweden, for taking people from the United Nations, we’re fourth in the world.”

During an interview on Sky News on Wednesday, 10 May, immigration minister Robert Jenrick MP claimed that the UK is “second only to Sweden” in the number of refugees accepted through resettlement schemes, and “fourth in the world” in the number of people taken “from the United Nations”.

It’s slightly unclear from the clip whether both of Mr Jenrick’s claims (that the UK is second and fourth) refer to resettlement schemes operated in partnership with the UN’s refugee agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 

However, Mr Jenrick has made a similar claim previously, stating in response to a written parliamentary question on 3 April that: “The UK is one of the largest recipients of UNHCR referred refugees globally, second only to Sweden in Europe since 2015.”

In terms of the number of refugees accepted through official resettlement schemes operated in partnership with the UNHCR, both these claims appear broadly correct. However, the figures would benefit from some additional context.

The Home Office also says: “Between 2016 and December 2022, the UK has resettled over 26,000 individuals under UNHCR resettlement schemes – the fourth highest number in the world (after the United States, Canada, and Sweden).”

This is true: data published by the UNHCR shows that between 2016 and 2022 the UK resettled 26,366 refugees through the UNHCR's resettlement programme—the fourth most in the world, and second in Europe behind Sweden.

This figure doesn’t include the more than 21,000 Afghan nationals resettled in the UK since 2021 under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (Pathway 1) (ACRS).

According to Home Office data, between 2016 and 2022 the UK resettled a total of 47,802 refugees through its various schemes. 

This figure doesn’t include more than 200,000 Ukrainian refugees or more than 100,000 people from Hong Kong who have been granted UK visas under specific schemes.

A Home Office spokesperson told Full Fact: “The UK has a proud history of providing protection for those who genuinely need it through our safe and legal routes. Since 2015, we have offered a place to almost half a million men, women and children seeking safety - including those from Hong Kong, Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine, as well as family members of refugees.

“We are amongst the top European countries for resettlement.”

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Other European countries resettle more refugees relative to their populations

The UNHCR’s figures show the total number of refugees resettled through the agency by various countries. However, when looking at the number of refugees resettled, relative to the population of the countries that resettle them, the picture is slightly different

In a briefing published last year, the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory analysed the number of people given protection under resettlement schemes in Europe, as a proportion of the population of the country where they resettled (based on 2021 population estimates).

This data shows that, between 2008 and 2021 (the latest year for which data was available when the briefing was published) the UK was 11th among EU+ countries (the 27 EU countries, plus Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and the UK) for the number of refugees accepted under resettlement programmes relative to its population, resettling approximately 4.98 refugees per 10,000 people.

By comparison, Norway settled 31.21 refugees per 10,000 people—the most of any EU+ country relative to its population.

Figures don’t include asylum grants

Resettlement schemes are only one way in which the UK offers protection to vulnerable people. More commonly, people are given protection through the asylum process.

In the UK, between 2016 and 2022 just over 78,000 asylum seekers were granted protection at initial decision. 

According to EU data, over the same period, Germany (1.1 million), Spain (159,000), France (211,000), Italy (175,000), Greece (116,000), Austria (114,000), Sweden (121,000) and Switzerland (83,000) all issued more positive decisions in asylum cases (though this data may not be perfectly comparable with the UK figure).

According to the Migration Observatory, between 2016 and 2021 the UK was the sixth-ranked among EU+ countries when it came to the total number of people offered protection through both asylum and resettlement schemes, though we can’t say for certain how the number of cases accepted by countries in 2022 may have affected this ranking.

Selective use of official information without appropriate context and caveats can damage public trust in both official information and politicians. MPs should use official information transparently and with all relevant context and caveats. We’ve written recently about a number of misleading claims made by Home Office ministers regarding refugees and asylum seekers.

Image courtesy of Chris McAndrew

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