Under Article 14(1) of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, anyone who faces persecution in their home country may seek asylum.
To be eligible for asylum in the UK, it must be impossible for you to live with any degree of safety in your home country because of the persecution you face there and the failure of your government to protect you.
Grounds for persecution in this context include race, religion or belief system, nationality, your political opinion or any other factor that could lead to discrimination or harm.
The process for claiming asylum in the UK can be broken down as follows:
- Register your claim for asylum
- Attend a screening
- Attend an asylum interview
- Receive a decision
Claiming Asylum in the UK: Registering your claim
When you enter the UK for the first time, you must make your claim for asylum to the border officials.
You should have your passport or travel document and any supporting documents with you when you arrive in the UK to present at your screening, including police registration certificate, identity documents (e.g. birth certificate) and any evidence of the persecution you are fleeing from.
Where you already live in the UK and wish to claim asylum here because you would face persecution if you returned to your home country, you should contact the asylum screening unit to register your claim for asylum and make an appointment for a screening. In addition to the above documents (passport, police registration certificate, identity documents, evidence of persecution) you should also provide proof of your UK address, such as a bank statement or household bills.
Attending a screening
Where you make your claim for asylum when you first enter the UK, you will be screened by an immigration officer.
Your biometric information (photograph and fingerprints) will be taken and you will be expected to provide your passport and supporting documents.
You will be asked about your reasons for claiming asylum in the UK, to confirm your identity, your medical history and any medication you are taking, and to give details of any dependants (partner and children under 18 years old) who have accompanied you.
If you aren’t a confident English speaker, you may ask for an interpreter to be present at your screening.
If you registered your claim for asylum with the asylum screening unit, you will receive a telephone call back from them to take basic details about you and your family, whether you need help with housing or an interpreter to be present at the screening. Your reasons for claiming asylum won’t be discussed during this call.
You should attend on the date and time arranged for your screening with your passport and supporting documents, and accompanied by any dependants. Your biometric information will be recorded, and you will be asked to explain your reasons for claiming asylum in the UK.
Whether you’ve claimed asylum as you entered the UK or are already living here, after your screening has taken place, three things will happen.
Firstly, you will receive information on what to do while your claim for asylum is processed.
Secondly, an asylum registration card (ARC) will be sent to your UK address. The exception to this is where you are detained. Your ARC shows your identity and whether you are allowed to work in the UK. You can use your ARC to get access to health and education services.
Thirdly, a caseworker will be assigned to you. You must stay in touch with your caseworker while your application is processed. Failure to do this may mean that you face detention.
When you register for asylum in the UK, you may be detained at an immigration removal centre while your application is processed. If your application is successful, you will be allowed to leave the centre to live in the UK. If you are not granted asylum in the UK, you will remain at the centre until you can be returned to your home country.
Detention is generally not an option for children, the elderly, families with children, pregnant women, trafficking victims or torture victims.
Where an asylum applicant suffers from a physical or mental health condition that can’t reasonably be managed in detention, or could place other detained individuals at risk, they generally won’t be detained.
Attending an asylum interview
Shortly after your screening, you will be expected to attend an asylum interview meeting.
If you wish, you may submit your claim in writing to your caseworker before your interview, quoting your Home Office reference number.
Your family members will not be allowed to attend the interview with you, however, you may request that your legal representative and an interpreter is present.
Take your passport, ARC and supporting documents with you.
The interview will provide you with the opportunity to explain your persecution in your home country and why you feel you would be in danger if you returned there.
Your caseworker will make a record of the interview. A copy of this will be given to you once the interview is over. If a legal representative doesn’t attend your interview, you may ask for a tape recording of the interview to be made also, although you should give your caseworker at least one day’s notice of this request.
You may remain in the UK until you have received a decision.
Waiting for a decision
It may take up to 6 months to find out whether your claim for asylum has been successful. In cases where more information is requested or there are complications, it may take more than 6 months to receive a decision.
So what are the possible outcomes?
Permission to live in the UK as a refugee
Should your application for asylum be successful, you will be granted the status of refugee. You may remain in the UK for 5 years, on the basis of ‘leave to remain’. At the end of those 5 years, you may apply to settle in the UK.
Permission to remain in the UK for humanitarian reasons
Where your application is unsuccessful, but it is decided that it is against your human rights to return to your home country or that it isn’t safe for you to return there, or both, you may be allowed to remain in the UK for humanitarian reasons.
Alternatively, you may be allowed to extend your stay in the UK.
Where your application for asylum is unsuccessful and there is no other reason that you may be permitted to remain in the UK, you will be required to return to your home country.
You may appeal this decision within 14 days while in the UK, or 28 days if you have left the country. Not everyone will be allowed to appeal however.
You may choose to leave the UK voluntarily, in which case the UK government may be able to offer some help to do so, or you will be forcibly removed.
What help is there available to asylum seekers in the UK?
There are several asylum related helplines that can provide assistance to asylum seekers in the UK:
- Asylum Help UK
- Asylum Support Application UK
- Children’s Panel (in England)
These three organisations are charities and not governmental departments. They play no part in processing your asylum application.
If you have recently arrived in the UK and made a claim for asylum, already received the decision on your application or need help living in the UK as a refugee, these helplines can provide assistance with housing, dealing with government agencies, English language classes, asylum support, legal representation, education, and other issues related to starting your new life in this country.
They can also help where you face discrimination, violence, abuse or are witness to a crime.
You can obtain legal assistance from an immigration adviser when making an asylum claim.
Use asylum support where you need assistance with housing and financially supporting yourself and your family. Contact the asylum helpline to find out how they can help.
Claiming asylum in the UK when under 18 years old
If you are under 18 years old and part of a family, you will be included in your parent or other immediate family member’s asylum application.
If you are under 18 years old and making your own application, with no adult relative to apply with, you should either make yourself known to border officials when you enter the
UK or if you already live in the UK, contact the asylum screening unit.
The screening unit will need the following information:
- Your name
- date of birth
- passport number, or the number on your national identity document, or the number on your birth certificate
- where appropriate, the name and contact details of your foster carer
- information on your health, such as any medical conditions you suffer from
If you’re already under the care of the social services, contact the asylum screening unit to make an appointment.
If you’re not under the care of the social services but have a responsible adult, they must accompany you to the asylum screening unit, using the walk-in service. The adult will need to take proof of their identity and address with them.
If you’re not under the care of the social services and have no responsible adult, contact the police, social services or the asylum screening unit.
Claiming Asylum in the UK FAQs
Can I claim asylum in UK?
Many asylum seekers may originally enter the UK illegally however once they have successfully applied for asylum they are no longer considered to be 'illegal'. Anyone seeking asylum protection is entitled to stay in the UK whilst awaiting a decision on their claim. The right to claim asylum is enshrined in international law.
What is the criteria for claiming asylum in the UK?
You must apply for asylum if you want to stay in the UK as a refugee. To be eligible you must have left your country and be unable to go back because you fear persecution.
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.