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A Guide to UK Asylum

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UK asylum is frequently in the UK news. It is fair to say that it is a political hot potato. Whilst there is a lot of talk about UK immigration numbers, small boat arrivals, refugee hotel accommodation costs, and the Illegal Migration Bill, there is not a lot of information about what asylum means.

In this article our immigration solicitors look at asylum in the UK and what asylum means from an immigration solicitor’s perspective.

UK Online and London-Based Immigration Solicitors and Asylum Lawyers

For asylum law advice call the immigration lawyers at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online.

What does asylum mean?

The legal concept of asylum is recognised in United Nations Conventions on human rights. Claiming asylum means you are seeking protection from a country because you have faced persecution, or you are at risk of persecution, in your own country.

You find that some people use the terms asylum seeker and refugee interchangeably. The 2 terms are different. At its simplest, an asylum seeker is a person who is claiming asylum under a Refugee Convention. A refugee is a person who is eligible for help.

Claiming asylum

There is a widely held belief that, under international asylum law, an asylum seeker must claim asylum in the first safe country that they come to after fleeing the country where they were being persecuted or faced persecution. That is not correct. However, in the UK, great emphasis is placed on asylum seekers claiming asylum in the first safe country they came to rather than after journeying across continents or across Europe to claim asylum in the UK.

In the UK our asylum law seeks to differentiate between those who have fled direct from an unsafe country, without resting or passing through a safe country, and those who are classed as ‘illegal’ asylum seekers. Legal claimants are those who entered the UK by claiming asylum rather than by arriving in the back of a lorry or a small boat and then making an asylum application.

Asylum seekers say the differential treatment of legal and non-legal asylum seekers is unfair in a country like the UK where because of its island geography the numbers accepted through legal means are so small. In the Illegal Migration Bill, the government proposes to increase opportunities for legal asylum claims but only after they have reduced channel crossings and subject to other caveats being met.

If you want to claim asylum you need to let a border official or Home Office worker know of your intention to claim asylum. That’s the case however you entered the UK. For example, you could have secured entry clearance on a student visa but then discovered that your life is at risk in your home country because of your politics or your family connections or because you have come out as LGBTQ+ and know that will not be tolerated in your home country.

Asylum claim processing

In the UK, the Home Office decides asylum claims in a 2 stage interview process:

  • Screening interview – to take some details of the asylum claim such as key facts. For some asylum seekers, the information-gathering screening interview is now completed as a paper exercise to speed up the processing of outstanding asylum claims
  • Substantive interview– a detailed interview to assess the asylum claim and to determine if the asylum seeker qualifies for refugee status. The interview is a crucial part of the asylum application process. Unfortunately, some asylum seekers are waiting years for their claims to be processed

Successful asylum claims

To claim asylum and gain refugee status an asylum seeker must show that they have a well-founded fear of being persecuted in the country of their nationality and that they are unable or unwilling to stay in their home country because of their well-founded fear.

Article I of the Refugee Convention defines persecution. An asylum seeker has to show that they are being persecuted for one or more of the following reasons:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Nationality
  • Membership of a social group
  • Political opinion

The evidential burden of proving their case is on the asylum seeker. That can be tough as most people who have been persecuted or are in such fear of persecution that they flee their country, family, and friends, don’t have the luxury of being able to bring supporting documents with them. Immigration solicitors can help in the process of securing evidence in support of an asylum claim.

What is a well-founded fear of persecution?

An asylum seeker does not need to prove that they have been persecuted but they must be able to show that they have a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country. The fear doesn’t have to be based on a 100% probability of persecution but a ‘real risk’.

Asylum claimants need to be very clear and specific about the threat of persecution and the basis for their fear. Often a claimant may get information about how a country treats members of a particular region, religion, tribal affiliation, or political persuasion but they don’t then relate how that threat of persecution has created fear in them as an individual and explain the impact of the fear on their life. It is important to detail where the fear comes from. For example, from witnessing friends or neighbours being attacked or being the subject of harassment, abuse, or imprisonment.

What is persecution?

To succeed in an asylum claim an applicant has to be able to link their persecution, or the threat of persecution, to a particular aspect, namely race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.

The persecution must be serious and targeted mistreatment because of one of those characteristics, rather than say repeat beatings and muggings because of the dangerousness of the area in which the asylum seeker lived unless all the people in the area were being persecuted because of a shared attribute, such as being part of a minority tribe or religion.

Unwilling or unable to avail themselves of the protection of their country

It isn’t enough to be persecuted or be at risk of persecution. An asylum seeker must be able to demonstrate that they cannot obtain the protection of their own government to prevent or stop the feared persecution. In some scenarios, the Home Office may say that the asylum seeker would be safe in another part of their home country and refuse the asylum claim on this basis. That is why asylum seekers must explain why nowhere in their home country can provide a safe refuge from their fear of persecution.

Claiming asylum isn’t the easy option that many think it is from reading newspaper articles. It not only involves hard work and research to back up claims of persecution but also takes the guts to be open about deeply personal experiences of abuse and innermost fears. That takes courage but also sadly time given the outstanding backlog of asylum claims that the Home Office needs to process.

UK Online and London-Based Immigration Solicitors and Asylum Lawyers

For asylum law advice call the immigration lawyers at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online.

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