An asylum seeker is a person who has left their home country because of persecution on the grounds of religion, race, nationality or some other factor, from which they seek protection and shelter, and who has applied for, but not yet been granted, the status of refugee.
By comparison, a refugee is a person who has sought and been granted asylum.
How to claim asylum in the UK
Asylum seekers who wish to apply to the UK government to be a refugee, must:
- make their application as soon as they arrive in the UK, or where they already live in the UK, make their application immediately that they become aware that it would not be
- safe to return to their home country
- prove their eligibility
- attend a screening meeting and a further asylum interview
Asylum seekers: Eligibility for asylum in the UK
You must prove that you are eligible to be a refugee because it is unsafe to remain in your home country due to persecution. This could be because of your race, your religion, your nationality or because of a political opinion you hold. These are the most common factors for seeking asylum but if you can prove that you face persecution for other factors such as sexuality, then this may well be accepted.
Generally, if you are from or have a connection with an EU country, your application will be treated less favourably than if you are seeking asylum from a country that is outside the EU.
Asylum seekers: Supporting documents
When you apply, you must provide evidence of your identity, your current address if you are already resident in the UK, and where possible, of your reasons for wishing to seek asylum in the UK, i.e. the reasons you feel you face persecution in your home country.
- Supporting documents include:
- passport or travel documents
- police registration certificate
- identification document, for instance, a birth certificate
- where you are already resident in the UK, proof of your address such as a bank statement or household bill, or where you are staying in the home of another person, a letter from that person confirming this and documents that confirm their address such as a bank statement etc. Any proof of address documents must be no older than 3 months.
Asylum seekers: Making an application
This will depend on whether you are leaving your home country to seek asylum in the UK or are already living in the UK when you make your application.
If you make your application when you first enter the UK after leaving your home country, you must notify a UK border force officer.
Asylum seekers who are already living in the UK should make an appointment with the asylum screening unit.
Screening and asylum interview
If you apply for asylum when you first enter the UK, you will be screened at that point.
If you apply for asylum once you are in the UK, you will be screened at the asylum screening unit.
Whichever path you take, you should have all of your supporting documents ready to present.
At the screening, you will be questioned on your identity and asked about your family members, both those accompanying you and those already resident in the UK. If you need to have an interpreter with you, that can be arranged.
Once the screening is over, an asylum registration card will be sent to the UK address that you provided, and your application will be assigned to a caseworker.
Before your asylum interview, you may write to your caseworker stating why you have applied for asylum.
You will generally be asked to attend the asylum interview alone, although you may request an interpreter and a legal representative to accompany you.
The purpose of the interview is to provide you with a chance to explain the persecution you faced in your home country and why you feel it is not safe to remain there. If you have any evidence of how you have been persecuted, you should bring this with you to the interview, along with your birth certificate, passport or travel document, and medical records.
Once the interview is over, you will be provided with a copy of your interview record, but no decision will be made at this point.
It may take up to 6 months to receive the decision on your asylum status, or longer if further information is required.
Your rights as an asylum seeker
Firstly, you have the right to seek asylum where you face persecution in your home country which would endanger you.
Once you have applied for asylum in the UK, you have the right to be treated fairly and without prejudice, to practice your religion as long as you equally respect others to practice their religion, to be provided with accommodation and other forms of support where needed and applicable, and to have access to free healthcare and legal representation.
How long can an asylum seeker stay in the UK?
Asylum seekers may stay in the UK while their application is processed. Should your application be refused and you wish to appeal, you may remain in the UK while your appeal is processed. However, any appeal must be made no more than 14 days after the initial decision.
Should your application for asylum be denied, you may be given permission to stay in the UK for humanitarian reasons, that is, for your own protection. This permission to stay on the basis of right to enter or right to leave will last for 5 years.
Do you need to pay legal fees?
This will depend on whether you can afford to pay your own legal fees. In the case where you cannot, you may be entitled to free legal advice.
Where will you live in the UK as an asylum seeker?
If you are already resident in the UK, then you may generally remain at that address while your application is processed.
If you have newly arrived in the UK and need help with finding accommodation, you may apply for asylum support. Accommodation will be provided in the form of personal accommodation such as a flat, hostel accommodation or a bed and breakfast, usually outside London and the south east of England. You will not be able to choose where this housing is located.
If you are new to the UK but have family here, then you may stay with them. Alternatively, if you can afford to pay for your own accommodation, then you may take that option.
If you are accompanied by a partner and children under 18 years old, you may add these as dependants to your application for asylum. However, they must have accompanied you to the UK.
Alternatively, they may make their own applications for asylum, in which case they will not be treated as dependants.
Can the children of asylum seekers attend school in the UK?
Yes, children of asylum seekers who are of compulsory school age (5 to 16 years old) must attend school in the UK.
In England, school-leavers must participate in some form of education until they are 18 years old. This could be part or full-time education, or an apprenticeship.
Why take legal advice?
Whether you are newly entering the UK to seek asylum or have already lived in the UK for a number of years, specialist legal advice can assist you in making your application, gathering supporting documents, helping with your asylum interview, and provide your application with the best chance possible of success.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.