A few facts about refugees and asylum seekers

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees: Every 21 seconds, there is a new refugee created somewhere in the world. Worldwide, there are at least 13 million refugees and asylum seekers today. The vast majority seek a safe haven in countries that neighbour their own, which are invariably as poor themselves and have their own problems. Just under two million are living in western Europe.

Just over half the asylum applications in the UK this year have been recognised as genuine.


According to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to Refugees, a refugee is defined as a person who:

* has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion

* is outside the country they belong to or normally resides in; and

* is unable or unwilling to return home for fear of persecution

* In the UK people are considered asylum seekers until they can satisfy the Home Office that they fulfil these criteria. This is often a lengthy process requiring specialist legal expertise, the first six months of which they are prohibited from working. The government has set targets to reduce the time it takes to process an asylum application from the present average of 14 months to a maximum of six months.

* When asylum seekers are considered to have a genuine cause to leave their country but do not meet the strict internationally agreed definition of refugee, they are given exceptional leave to remain, which gives them residency rights. Immigrants or migrants are the generic term for people who come to live in a country from another country. They include asylum seekers but also people who return to their own country after having lived abroad, business people and professionals who have work permits for specific jobs. Economic migrants are people driven from their own countries to make a better life for themselves and their families in another.

* Generally they are from the developing world and other countries with depressed economies, such as the former Soviet bloc.

* Britain ranks 10th in the EU for asylum applications in relation to the overall population.

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