Refugee And Asylum Policy

The following information is intended to give you a basic idea of the current policy and legal situation of refugees in the UK.

What's the difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker in UK law?

According to the 1951 convention, a refugee is
“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 as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

Asylum Seeker
An asylum seeker is a person who has lodged an application for asylum under the 1951 Refugee Convention. In the UK, a person is not officially described as a refugee until they have been granted asylum (or refugee status).

What types of permission to remain in the UK can be granted?

Exceptional Leave to Remain (ELR)
Until April 2003 applicants whose circumstances did not merit a grant of asylum under the Refugee Convention, but whom the Home office felt should be given leave to remain in the UK on humanitarian grounds or compassionate grounds were granted 'exceptional leave to remain'. This applied when a case was accepted under the Human Rights Act 1998 or the UK's obligations under the 1984 UN Convention Against Torture (which the UK ratified in 1988). It was also Home Office policy to award unaccompanied minors ELR until their 18th birthday if their asylum claim was refused. ELR has now been replaced by two new forms of limited leave: 'humanitarian protection' (HP) and 'discretionary leave' (DL).

Humanitarian protection (HP)
Humanitarian protection will be granted for up to five years to people who have been refused refugee status, but cannot be returned to their country of origin as they face a serious risk to life or person for one or more specific reason. These are: death penalty, unlawful killing, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Discretionary leave
Discretionary leave is granted outside the immigration rules in very limited circumstances to people who have been refused refugee status but who do not fulfil the criteria for humanitarian protection.

The 1951 convention, although a vital instrument in refugee law has certain limitations. Drafted in 1951 it failed to envisage the scope and variety of situations in which it would need to be applied. It makes little mention of gender and issues have arisen over women applying for refugee status on the basis that they will face persecution, forced marriage and systematic gender discrimination if they return to their home country. Such situations are not sufficiently clear in the convention.

The 2001 UNHCR publication below looks at 50 years of the convention and the challenges if faces today.
For answers to frequently asked question about the convention,



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