Good practice in social care for refugees and asylum seekers

Background: Introduction

Asylum seekers and refugees in the UK

Asylum seekers and refugees are a highly heterogeneous group from a range of countries, united by their application for asylum in the UK under the 1951 United Nations Geneva Convention. As a group they include men and women of different ages with different educational backgrounds, including highly skilled professionals, who have experienced different circumstances in their own countries and arrived in the UK through different means. They face hardship before, during and after arrival in the UK and many commentators have remarked on the resilience, skills and strengths of asylum seekers and refugees and their networks as well as their social, cultural and economic contribution to life in the UK. It is important to emphasise the distinctions between refugees and asylum seekers because they have different legal status in the UK, which can affect their entitlement to services. An asylum seeker is a person who has asked for protection but has not received a decision on their application to become a refugee, or is waiting for the outcome of an appeal. A refugee is an individual to whom the UK government has offered protection in accordance with the Refugee Convention 1951 and granted leave to stay for a certain period of time. Refugees can, broadly speaking, access the same services as UK nationals, including social care provision. Asylum seekers and refused asylum seekers have different entitlements.

The numbers of asylum applications to the UK have fluctuated dramatically over recent decades. ¬†Asylum claims rose steadily throughout the late 1980’s and 1990s, reaching a high of 84,130 in 2003. Numbers then declined to to 25,710 in 2005, and fell further to 17,916 in 2010. The figure from 2013 shows an increase to 23,507(excluding dependants). [1] The top 10 nationalities represented in applications in 2012 were Pakistan, Iran, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Syria, Albania, India, Nigeria Afghanistan and Eritrea. [2] The nationality of asylum seekers making application in the UK fluctuates as military and political conflicts around the world develop or are resolved. In 2013 1,265 unaccompanied asylum seeking children aged 17 or under applied for asylum in the UK. [2]

Some of the individuals who seek asylum in the UK are the victims of human trafficking. The victims may have been forced, coerced or deceived into migration to the UK or may have been given false information about the kinds of work they would be doing.

The majority of asylum seekers and refugees initially settle in London but since the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 they have been dispersed to other areas of the country.

General information and statistics about asylum seekers and refugees can be found at:

Analysis of asylum and refugee statistics (Information Centre about Asylum and Refugees)
Migration statistics (HM Government)
Data and resources (The Migration Observatory at The University of Oxford)
Chance or choice? Understanding why asylum seekers come to the UK (The Refugee Council)

Links to International Conventions and relevant briefings

The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
The 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
European Convention on Human Rights
Palermo Protocol: Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons
The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings 2005
EU Directive on Human Trafficking

Links to UK legislation and briefings

Human Rights Act (1998)
Equality Act (2006)
Creating a fairer more equal society (2014)
Ministry of Justice (2006): Making sense of human rights
Immigration Bill (2013)