Refugees and Asylum Seekers | Understanding the Difference

Migration and Immigration is the ‘hot topic’ of the moment. And one group caught up in the rhetoric are refugees and asylum seekers.

Often asylum seekers and refugees get included in this debate, especially in the media but for the wrong reasons. That’s why we need you to know the facts, not the fear.

The term ‘asylum seekers’, and ‘refugees’ are often looked at as one, and the same. But there are differences that you should know. As we need to make sure that people seeking ‘legal’ refuge in the UK, are protected their ‘right to stay’.

Who are asylum seekers?

An Asylum Seeker is a person that has had to flee their home country and seek asylum in another country, and they are legally afforded the right to apply for asylum.

Where they are able to demonstrate through assessments and legal processes that their fear of persecution, exploitation or trafficking is ‘well-founded’ in order to gain legal status – individuals may file for asylum only if they are physically in the UK or at a port of entry.

Note: An asylum seeker has left everything behind: friends, family, photographs, job, home, clothes, favourite views or sentimental gifts… the list goes on.
Who are refugees?

A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee their country because of conflict, persuasion, for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political option. Or abuse, sexual or labour exploitation and, trafficking.

To expand on that definition, let’s turn to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which is part of international law.

It describes an refugee/or asylum seeker as 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.”

It’s completely legal, under these circumstances, to escape and find safety elsewhere.
There are however some commonalities, so what are they?

Both asylum seekers and refugees must meet the legal approvals and definitions of persecution, exploitation, or trafficking. While the two vulnerable groups flee their homes for similar reasons, they may arrive in the UK  through different means.

Note: The Home Office has a six-month target time to make decisions on UK settlement applications. However, the number of people waiting longer than this target has almost doubled in three years – with some people waiting years for a decision to be made.
But what happens to unaccompanied refugee/or trafficked children?

For unaccompanied refugee children legal rights can be bewildering. Without a trusted adult to explain, complex immigration and legal systems are impossible to understand. Many will spend months or even years waiting to be told if they can stay.

What are we doing to help?

We recognise that when a young person has been rescued from exploitation, whether yet to be deemed trafficked, or not, they are nonetheless often traumatised and in fear.

And this is where our support workers expertise and experience is critical in delivering effective holistic, child-centred care to a vulnerable young person. No matter where they’ve come from.

What can you do to help? Be informed. Understand the difference and, know the facts.

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