"Why don't we just send them back to where they came from?" The facts on asylum applications

10 December 2012


"Refugees 'are forced into destitution' in Britain because they cannot be sent back"

The Independent, 10th December 2012

In 2011/12, 64% of those seeking asylum had their applications rejected. While the Government has maintained that it has prioritised the removal of failed asylum seekers, a report by the Refugee Council warns that many asylum seekers are not able to return home, even if they would like to.

It may be too dangerous for them to return to their country of birth or they may be refused permission. According to the Refugee Council, this means that many of them are forced into a life of "street homelessness, begging and sex work".

The Refugee Council's research is focused on five countries from where a large number of the UK's asylum seekers arrive: Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

The Independent notes, "Most [failed asylum seekers] do not qualify for state support or housing once their asylum applications have been rejected unless they can demonstrate they are planning to leave". 

Is this correct?

The Immigration and Asylum Act (1999), amended by the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act (2002), enshrines an asylum seeker's right to receive state support. The Home Office advises failed asylum seekers: "you may be able to receive short-term support while you are preparing to return to your country".

The government supports asylum seekers (and their dependants) who are homeless or unable to afford basic living expenses - in other words, those who are "destitute". This currently amounts to a £35.39/week cashless payment card or full-board accommodation.

Under Section 4 of the Act, failed asylum seekers will receive temporary assistance provided that they are taking all reasonable steps to arrange for their departure or there's a good reason why they can't leave the UK. 

It might be the case that you have a medical condition that prevents you from making the journey, that there is currently no viable route back to your country of origin, or that you have appealed the decision on your right to asylum and are waiting to hear the result.

The Home Office guidance also observes that it might be the case that "accommodation is necessary to prevent a breach of your rights within the meaning of the Human Rights Act 1998".

Not all asylum seekers will qualify for temporary support, as the Refugee Council observes.

Asylum seekers are not permitted to work "except in very limited circumstances", which means that many of them are reliant on the support of either goverment or charities. (If the government has failed to process an asylum seeker's application within 12 months, the individual may request the right to seek employment.)

Does the government deport failed asylum seekers?

According to the Refugee Council, "The UK Border Agency does not forcibly return people in large numbers". While certain countries will reject returnees, the UKBA also loses touch with some rejected asylum seekers, "making it difficult to enforce removals". 

The government expects asylum seekers to return home voluntarily, either on their own initiative or with the government's help through the Assisted Voluntary Returns programme. According to Home Office statistics, since 2009 voluntary departures have represented the largest category of removals (23,184 people in the year to September 2012). However, in the same period the government enforced the deportation of 14,823 individuals.

What does this data tell us?

From 2007 to 2012, the number of asylum seekers refused entry to the UK has more than halved. Interestingly enough, during the same period there has been an increase in the number of asylum seekers departing the UK voluntarily. This data suggests that more asylum seekers are having their applications rejected after they've been accepted into the country. However, it appears that a greater number are making arrangements for their own departure.

What we don't know is how many failed asylum seekers do not qualify for temporary support, and what proportion of this group are living in destitution. Rather, we only know when the government has stepped in.

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