What is a refugee?

Almost a quarter of British children do not know the meaning of the word “refugee”, according to a new survey, amid mounting evidence of a growth in negative sentiments and scepticism towards those seeking asylum in the UK. 

Just over half of teachers (52 per cent) spoken to by the British Red Cross (BRC) said they had witnessed “anti-refugee” sentiments in their pupils and almost a quarter of children (24 per cent) did not know what a refugee was. 

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/refugee-asylum-uk-children-immigration-red-cross-survey-a8958936.html

The legal definition of the term “refugee” is set out at Article 1A(2) of the Refugee Convention, which defines a refugee as a person who:

Owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence is unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to return to it.

The definition can be broken into constituent parts:

Possession of a fear that is well founded rather than fanciful

Of treatment that is so bad it amounts to being persecuted

For one of five reasons, referred to as ‘Convention reasons’: race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion

Being outside one’s country

Being unable or unwilling to obtain protection in that country

All of the conditions need to be met for the person to be considered a refugee. For example, a person might have a well founded fear and be unable to get protection but if that person does not fear being persecuted for a Convention reason then the person is not a refugee in legal terms. Another person may meet all the other criteria for refugee status but be living in a refugee camp in their own country, in which case he or she is not a refugee and instead would often be referred to as an Internally Displaced Person.

https://www.freemovement.org.uk/what-is-the-legal-meaning-of-refugee/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-is-the-legal-meaning-of-refugee&utm_source=Free+Movement&utm_campaign=66cbdac396-Asylum+updates&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_792133aa40-66cbdac396-105090761&mc_cid=66cbdac396&mc_eid=2edcf25685

Of course, these definitions are the international ones used to determine legal status. They clearly exclude someone leaving their country voluntarily in order to better themselves economically, but they also may exclude people fleeing famine or poverty, or civil war unless some aspect of those situations targets the individual because of their ‘ race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.’

It’s therefore more complex than we might have imagined, and explains perhaps why so many applications for asylum fail. (There are of course myriad other reasons, notably a culture of disbelief.)

With all of these caveats, as Colin Yeo (immigration & asylum barrister, and editor of the Free Movement immigration law website) puts it, the Refugee Convention is ‘almost certainly the single law that has saved the most lives in history’. There’s lots more information about the Convention on the UNHCR website, which clarifies the wider role that they play in supporting people who have been ‘forcibly displaced’ (for example, they work with those who are internally displaced – i.e. they have fled their homes but are still in their own country).

For over half a century, UNHCR has helped millions of people to restart their lives. They include refugees, returnees, stateless people, the internally displaced and asylum-seekers. Our protectionshelter, health and education has been crucial, healing broken pasts and building brighter futures.

An unprecedented 68.5 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 25.4 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.

There are also an estimated 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.

https://www.unhcr.org/uk/who-we-help.html; https://www.unhcr.org/uk/figures-at-a-glance.html

Refugee Action, one of the foremost UK charities working with refugee and asylum seekers, has produced this useful list of FAQs:

Q. What is a refugee?

A. According to the UN Refugee Convention, the definition of a refugee is someone who…

‘Owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country’ (Article 1, 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees)

Q. What is an asylum seeker?

The definition of an asylum seeker is someone who has arrived in a country and asked for asylum. Until they receive a decision as to whether or not they are a refugee, they are known as an asylum seeker. In the UK, this means they do not have the same rights as a refugee or a British citizen would. For example, asylum seekers aren’t allowed to work.

The right to seek asylum is a legal right we all share. It isn’t illegal to seek asylum, because seeking asylum is a legal process. It also isn’t illegal to be refused asylum – it just means you haven’t been able to meet the very strict criteria to prove your need for protection as a refugee.

Q. Are there many refugees and asylum seekers in the UK?

A. No. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), by the end of 2017 there were 121,837 refugees, 40,365 pending asylum cases and 97 stateless persons in the UK. That’s around one quarter of a percent (0.25%) of the UK’s total population.

Q. Is the number of asylum seekers and refugees in the UK increasing?

A. Asylum applications to the UK are relatively low – 26,350 in 2017. They increased slightly in 2015, when there were 32,733 applications for asylum, but this was still significantly lower than the peak of 84,000 applications back in 2002.

Q. Which countries help the most refugees?

A. 85% of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries. The least developed countries host one third of the total number of refugees globally. At the end of 2017, the country hosting the most refugees was Turkey –home to 3.5 million refugees. Other significant host countries for refugees were Pakistan (1.4 million), Uganda (1.2 million) and Lebanon (998,850).

Q. How many Syrian refugees are there and how many is the UK helping?

A. According to the UNHCR, by the end of 2017 there were 6.3 million Syrian refugees worldwide. Around 4.4 million of these refugees are currently being hosted by just two countries – Turkey and Lebanon. As well as providing aid to the refugee camps on Syria’s borders, the UK has pledged to resettle 20,000 Syrians by 2020 through the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. By the end of 2017, 10,538 Syrian refugees had come to the UK through this scheme.

Q. Which countries in Europe have the most asylum seekers?

A. In 2017, Germany received the highest number of asylum applications (199,200), Italy the second most (128,800) and France third (98,800). The UK received 5% of the asylum applications lodged in the EU in 2017.

Q. Can asylum seekers work or claim benefits?

A. Asylum seekers are not allowed to claim benefits or work in the UK. If they are destitute and have no other means of supporting themselves, they can apply to receive asylum support. This is set at around £5.39 per day.

Q. What happens to someone when they get refugee status?

A. When a person is given refugee status, they have just 28 days to find accommodation and apply for mainstream benefits before they are evicted from asylum accommodation. Many refugees become homeless at this stage.

https://www.refugee-action.org.uk/about/facts-about-refugees/

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