Frequently asked questions

Why do we allow asylum seekers into Wales?

In 1999 the government decided to disperse asylum seekers across the UK and away from London and the South East. They did this by contracting local councils and private companies to provide housing across the UK.

Destitute asylum seekers are dispersed to Wales by the UK Border Agency(UKBA). While receiving accommodation and support from UKBA they have no choice about where they live. If they can find other accommodation they can claim subsistence from UKBA and not be forced to live in a particular place, but they will not be given any assistance to pay for the accommodation. There are four designated 'cluster' areas to receive asylum seekers in Wales: Newport, Swansea, Cardiff and Wrexham. 

Accommodation is provided through the private sector. Costs for these contracts are paid from Central Government funds, via the UKBA.

Where do the asylum seekers who arrive in Wales come from?

Asylum seekers in Wales come from many different countries of origin, of which the top 10 as of May 2012  were: Pakistan, People's Republic of China, Iran, Sudan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Iraq.  The origin of asylum seekers arriving in the UK reflects the international situation at any given time.

Why are people allowed to claim asylum in the UK?

The UK, along with over 130 other countries, is a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. The convention was drawn up as a response in part to the large number of European refugees following the Second World War. The right to asylum was incorporated into UK law in 1993. This means that by law anyone has the right to apply for asylum in the UK and remain until a final decision on their application has been made.

The fact that an asylum seeker may have entered a country illegally does not necessarily mean that their case lacks credibility. People fleeing persecution often have to resort to the use of false documents in order to leave their home country. In recognition of this fact, Article 31 of the 1951 Refugee Convention prohibits governments from penalising refugees who use false documents.

Sending asylum seekers back to persecution violates international human rights standards. Article 33 of the UN Convention for Refugees prohibits the UK from expelling or returning a refugee until their case is heard.

Does Britain take more asylum seekers and refugees than other countries?

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that in 2006 some 596,000 applications (first instance or appeal) were submitted to Governments and UNHCR offices. Most of these applications were registered in Europe (299,000) but only 27,800 of those were claims were registered in the UK (4.6%)

Most people seek asylum in neighbouring countries to their country of origin, and some of the poorest countries in the world support the largest number of refugees. Over 70% of the world's refugees are in developing countries, with nearly one third of these in the 49 poorest countries in the world.

For more detailed asylum statistics, please see

UN Refugee Agency Global Trends 2010 (opens new website) 
Home Office Research Development Statistics (opens new website)

Do asylum seekers receive preferential benefits and services?

Asylum seekers cannot claim mainstream welfare benefits including Income Support and Housing Benefit. Those who meet a destitution test are supported by the UKBA.

The cost of supporting and housing asylum seekers does not come out of local Council Tax. The full costs of housing and supporting asylum seekers are paid by the Home Office direct to the Council and private sector housing providers.

Since July 2002, asylum seekers are not allowed to work unless they are granted either refugee or humanitarian status. This means they are dependent on government support. Many asylum seekers make a valuable contribution to their communities through voluntary work.

Asylum seekers considered destitute receive weekly cash payments which are equivalent to 70% (needs update) of regular Income Support.

In December 2003, around 80,000 asylum seekers were receiving Home Office support, compared with 15.5 million Britons on benefits (excluding retirement pensions), meaning that 0.5% of those claiming government support were asylum seekers. (Update available?)

Do asylum seekers get preferential treatment for social housing?

Asylum seekers are housed under separate arrangements, funded and administered centrally by the Home Office department called the UK Borders Agency (UKBA). UKBA has a contract with housing providers rather than tenancy agreements with asylum seekers, who are excluded from social housing lists.

Asylum seekers who are given housing support have no choice about where their accommodation is allocated. Accommodation provided to asylum seekers is not better than that provided to UK nationals.

In summary, provision is made for the following, in accordance with human habitable accommodation as defined in the housing act 1985:-

safe electrical equipment, furniture to a reasonable standard, including cot/high chair for babies/young children; gas; electricity; water and sign posting to local services

UKBA does not provide asylum seekers with:-

telephones (landlines or mobile); televisions, television licences or hi-fi equipment, new electrical goods, new furniture, cars, cleaning, gym or leisure club membership or computers.

If an asylum seeker is given refugee status, or leave to remain in the UK, they are entitled to apply for social housing if they are in priority need and will go on a waiting list along with anyone else who has applied.

People with refugee status or leave to remain in the UK who are not assessed as priority need, have to find accommodation from private landlords or registered social landlords.

Do asylum seekers get priority health care over local people?

Health authorities do not prioritise asylum seekers over local people. Asylum seekers are entitled to register with a local GP and do receive most services from the NHS, but they must go through the same processes as everyone else.

Do asylum seekers ever go back to their own country?

Many asylum seekers do return to their home country once the reasons that forced them to flee no longer exist. Many have had to leave good jobs, a decent standard of living, and their families and communities.

The majority of refugees prefer to return home as soon as circumstances permit; generally when a conflict has ended, a degree of stability has been restored and a basic infrastructure has been rebuilt.

Some refugees cannot go home or are unwilling to do so, usually because they would face continued persecution.

Choices Assisted Voluntary Return Service

The Assisted Volunatry Return Service is run by Refugee Action and offers confidential, independent and impartial advice and information to asylum seekers, refugees and people in the UK with no legal status (irregular migrants) to help decide whether to return voluntarily.

The service offers help to plan the return, apply for travel documents and pay for flight and offer support at the airport and in country of return.


What have asylum seekers/refugees ever done for us?

A recent Home Office report shows that people born outside the UK, including refugees, contribute 10% more to the economy in taxes and national insurance than they consume in benefits and public services, equivalent to a boost to the economy of 2.6 billion pounds at 1998/99 prices.

According to research by the Department for Work and Pensions (Bloch, 2002) 53% of refugees have academic qualifications. Between 23-33% have a first or postgraduate degree and most possess relevant work experience. Over 65% of refugees speak two languages as well as their mother tongue. Needs update with info from Refugee Survey?

Many asylum seekers go on to contribute positively to economic growth in the UK. For example, Michael Marks, the founder of Marks & Spencer, was a refugee. Fish and chips were brought to Britain by 17th Century Jews expelled from Portugal. The brains behind Mini and Morris Minor, Alec Issigonis, fled the war between Turkey and Greece. Lew Grade fled the Ukraine to become one of the giants in British television. Other famous refugees are Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, and Alan Yentob (BBC Programmes Director). Replace by more recent info and testimonies of host communities.

Published on: 09 March 2010