Who are the 100 million displaced people Suella Braverman said could qualify for UK protection?

8 March 2023
What was claimed

There are 100 million people around the world who could qualify for protection under our current laws, and they are “coming here”.

Our verdict

This figure is based on the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) estimate of the global number of forcibly displaced people. The majority of these people remain in their own countries, and most refugees stay in neighbouring countries. It’s not clear how many of the 100 million would be granted asylum or other protection in the UK if they were to apply. Around 90,000 people applied for asylum in the UK in 2022.

“There are 100 million people around the world who could qualify for protection under our current laws. Let us be clear - they are coming here.”

“There are 100 million people displaced around the world, and likely billions more eager to come here if possible.”

Introducing the government’s new Illegal Migration Bill on 7 March, the Home Secretary Suella Braverman claimed 100 million people around the world “could qualify for protection” under current UK laws, and added that “they are coming here”.

She later repeated this claim in the Daily Mail on 8 March, adding that there are “likely billions more eager to come here if possible”.

When asked about her use of these figures during an appearance on Good Morning Britain, Ms Braverman said that the 100 million figure referred to people who are currently displaced and “on the move”, and that “many of them are heading to the United Kingdom”.

She added that the roughly 45,000 people who arrived in the UK on small boats last year showed “what we’re dealing with is an unsustainably high number on any count of people coming here illegally”.

The Home Office did not offer a further comment when contacted by Full Fact.

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Who are the 100 million?

Ms Braverman’s claim about 100 million people is based on the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) estimate that, as of May 2022, the number of people forcibly displaced worldwide had exceeded 100 million for the first time on record.

The UNHCR describes forcibly displaced people as those “forced to flee due to persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations and events seriously disturbing public order”. It currently estimates that global forced displacement reached 103 million people as of mid-2022.

At Prime Minister’s Questions on 8 March, in response to a question from the SNP’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn MP,Prime Minister Rishi Sunak claimed that the 100 million figure “illustrates the scale of the global migration crisis”. 

However, the majority of people included in the 100 million figure (around 60 million) are internally displaced, meaning they have been forced to flee or leave their homes, but have not left their country.

Also included in the 100 million figure are an estimated 26.7 million refugees under the UNHCR’s mandate, 4.9 million asylum seekers, 5.3 million other people in need of international protection, and a further 5.8 million Palestinian refugees not included under the UNHCR’s mandate.

The significant increase in forcibly displaced people over the first half of 2022 (the largest ever increase between years recorded by the UNHCR) was largely driven by the war in Ukraine, which has resulted in approximately 5.6 million Ukrainian refugees, and a further 6.3 million people internally displaced in Ukraine.

We asked the Migration Observatory at Oxford about the 100 million figure, and the Home Secretary’s claim that this number of people “could qualify for protection” under UK law. We were told it’s difficult to determine exactly how many people within this group would be likely to be granted protection by the UK were they to apply, as it may depend on the reasons why they were forcibly displaced.

The UN’s definition of a forcibly displaced person is not the same as a refugee, which under the 1951 Geneva Convention on the status of refugees is defined as “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion”.

An asylum seeker, meanwhile, is someone who has applied to be recognised as a refugee. Under current UK law, you must be in the UK in order to apply for asylum.

How many people are trying to come to the UK?

In Parliament yesterday, Ms Braverman said the 100 million forcibly displaced people are “coming here”, before going on to claim today that there are “likely billions more eager to come here if possible”.

While it is true that an increasing number of people are attempting to claim asylum in the UK, there’s no data to suggest that 100 million people, or even the majority of those defined as “forcibly displaced” by the UN, are attempting to reach the UK.

Full Fact asked the UNHCR about Ms Braverman’s claim, and it told us that the majority of forcibly displaced people remain within their own country, while an estimated 69% of refugees and asylum seekers who do leave their country stay in countries which neighbour their own.

It added that surveys consistently indicate that the majority of refugees say they want to return to their homes as soon as it is safe for them to do so.

As of mid-2022, Turkey currently hosts the highest number of refugees with 3.7 million, followed by Colombia with 2.5 million, and Germany with 2.2 million.

By comparison, according to UNHCR data, as of mid-2022 the UK currently hosts an estimated 231,597 refugees, as well as 127,421 asylum seekers, 5,438 stateless persons and 293 people described as “others of concern”.

This includes a significant number of Ukrainians who have arrived in the UK since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. According to the UK government, over the course of 2022 more than 150,000 Ukrainians arrived in the UK under its Ukraine visa schemes.

In 2021, the UK received the fourth highest number of asylum applications among EU+ countries (the EU, plus Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway), and resettled the fifth highest number of refugees.

In 2022, the UK received 74,751 asylum applications relating to 89,398 individuals, compared with a total of 244,132 asylum applications in Germany over the same period.

More broadly, the number of people migrating to the UK is also increasing. In the year to June 2022, approximately 1.1 million people migrated to the UK. This is an increase of 435,000 on the previous 12 months, and was primarily driven by non-EU nationals.

Image courtesy of Simon Dawson

Update 9 March 2023

We’ve updated this article to reflect the Home Office’s response to our request for comment.

Update 10 March 2023

We’ve updated this article to add further detail about the Ukrainian resettlement schemes and overall migration to the UK.

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We referenced Suella Braverman's claim in a letter we sent to the Home Office rasing concerns about the department's recent use of statistics and data.

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