In a video shared on Twitter the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak claims that, as part of his plan to “stop the boats”, he is “ensuring that the only way to come to the UK for asylum will be through safe and legal routes”.
The government has said previously that it will create safe and legal routes to travel to the UK for asylum “as we get a grip on illegal migration”. We don’t know any further details about these plans, and we’ve asked Number 10 whether the Prime Minister was intending to refer to these potential future routes, as seems likely.
There are currently no safe and legal routes by which to travel to the UK for the purpose of claiming asylum.
As we’ve previously explained, and as the UK government itself has stated, there are currently no visa routes available for this purpose, and it is not possible to apply for asylum in the UK without being physically present here.
The Illegal Migration Act, which received Royal Assent, becoming law, on 20 July, has also made asylum claims by people who arrive in the UK “in breach of immigration control”, including by crossing the channel in small boats, inadmissible.
It is important that Ministers ensure any claims they make about the routes available for people to come to the UK to seek asylum are accurate and clear, to avoid causing confusion, both for people who are in this situation, and more broadly within the debate over immigration. If a Minister makes a claim about this topic which is unclear or lacks vital context, they should take steps to clarify this at the earliest opportunity.
Honesty in public debate matters
You can help us take action – and get our regular free email
What “safe and legal routes” are currently available?
The UK does operate some safe and legal routes for the purpose of providing humanitarian and other forms of protection to vulnerable people. We’ve also written about these routes on several previous occasions.
The UK currently operates three resettlement schemes, through which the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) identifies people eligible for resettlement in the UK, and refers cases to the Home Office for consideration. Under these schemes, those resettled in the UK have already been recognised as refugees by the UNHCR, rather than seeking asylum (or refugee status) directly from or on arrival in the UK.
According to the UN’s 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.
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. Again, under these schemes, those coming to the UK qualify to stay in the UK without having to seek asylum on arrival.
The government says it offered approximately 481,804 people routes to the UK through these various schemes between 2015 and 2022, of whom almost half (233,770) were from Ukraine.
An update shared to the Prime Minister’s Facebook page on 7 August stated that “At the same time [as taking action to ‘stop the boats’] we have housed over half a million people through our safe legal routes, including over 182,000 Ukrainians fleeing Putin’s aggression, and 25,000 Afghan citizens escaping the Taliban”, which would appear to refer to this cumulative figure for the number of people provided protection by the UK over the last seven years. As we have noted, this is not the same as people applying for asylum.
The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford says: “To claim asylum in the UK, a person must be in the UK. It is not possible to apply from outside the country, and there is no asylum visa to enable people to travel to the UK legally to apply for asylum. Therefore, for citizens who do not have visa-free travel to the UK, to claim asylum in the UK, they must enter either irregularly, such as by small boat, lorry, or by using false documents, or on a visa for some other purpose, such as tourism or study.
It adds: “Refugee resettlement is separate from the asylum process. In the asylum process, people must apply for asylum whilst in the UK. By contrast, it is not possible to apply for refugee resettlement. Instead, refugees are selected by the UN for resettlement, and transferred to the UK with the agreement of the Home Office, where they receive refugee status on arrival.”
Image courtesy of Chris McAndrew