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Migrants in a dinghy sail in the Channel toward the south coast of EnglandGetty Images

The number of people arriving in the UK to claim asylum is a subject of intense political debate.

How do the figures compare with other countries in Europe?

What is an asylum seeker?

An asylum seeker is someone who has applied for “asylum” – protection given by a country to those fleeing persecution – or fear of persecution – in their own country.

If their application is successful, they are granted leave to remain in the country where they sought refuge.

If their application is refused, they can be removed from that country.

There is an appeals process, which means an initial refusal may be overturned, in which case the applicant could be given leave to remain.

How many people seek asylum every year in the UK?

The annual number of applications to the UK peaked in 2002 at more than 84,000, with people fleeing conflict in countries including Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq seeking refuge.

After that, the number fell sharply. In 2010, it was at a 20-year low of just under 18,000.

Applications started rising again throughout the 2010s, with refugees from Syria seeking asylum in the UK.

In 2021, more than 48,500 applications were made.

The final figures for 2022 are not yet available, but in the first nine months of the year, the UK received more than 52,500 applications, the highest number for almost two decades.

Graph showing a total number of asylum applications per year since 1990s

How many people have crossed the Channel in small boats?

The majority of people who claimed asylum in the UK over the past 12 months arrived via the English Channel from France.

A total of 45,670 migrants crossed the Channel to Britain in 2022, according to government figures collated by the BBC.

This is the highest number since these figures began to be collected by the government in 2018.

Chart showing number of people crossing the English Channel in 2018-2022, with numbers rising sharply in 2021 and 2021

Where do asylum seekers come from?

In the 12 months to September 2022, the highest number of asylum seekers came from Albania – more than 15,000.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has called this a “safe country” and has announced measures to try to reduce these numbers.

The second largest group, with almost 11,000, came from Iran, followed by Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.

Chart showing number of UK asylum applications by nationality in the 12 months to September 2022, in descending order: Albania, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea, Sudan, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan

Ukrainian refugees are not included in these statistics.

In March 2022, the government opened two schemes for people fleeing war in Ukraine: the Ukraine Family scheme and the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

There are also schemes for specific groups of people, such as Afghan refugees, and an immigration route for some Hong Kong citizens.

How does the UK compare with other European countries on asylum?

If you compare the number of asylum applications received in 2021, the UK had the fourth highest total in Europe, with only Germany, France and Spain receiving more.

Chart showing top European asylum destinations in terms of applications received in 2021, in descending order: Germany, France, Spain, UK, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, Greece, Belgium and Cyprus

If you look at these figures in relation to the overall population, the UK received 87 asylum applications per 100,000 of population.

On this measure, 12 other European countries – with populations of more than two million people – received more applications than the UK.

Some smaller countries – Cyprus, Iceland, Malta, Luxemburg and Liechtenstein – also received higher numbers per 100,000.

Chart showing top asylum destinations in Europe per 100,000 population, in descending order: Austria, Slovenia, Greece, Germany, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Switzerland, Netherlands, Lithuania, Spain, Sweden, UK, Italy and Croatia - applications made in 2021, European countries with populations greater than two million.

Does the UK grant more asylum applications than other countries?

In 2021, the UK authorities made decisions on 22,890 first-time applications and granted 14,690 of them – 64%.

France, a country with a population similar to the UK’s, made 137,015 decisions, granting 33,875 of them – 25%.

Germany made 132,680 asylum decisions, granting 59,850 – 45%.

Chart showing percentage of asylum decisions made in 2021 that were positive, in selected countries, including Switzerland at the top with the approval rate of 91%, followed by the Netherlands, Austria, UK, Italy, Germany, France, Germany, Greece, Belgium, Sweden, Spain and France

How quickly are asylum cases processed?

Asylum application are not looked at the moment they are submitted – some people wait months or even years for their claims to be considered.

In 2021, the average wait in the UK was 15.5 months, according to the Oxford Migration Observatory think tank.

In France it was 8.5 months, in Germany 6.5 months and in Austria just over 3 months.

The delay in the UK has created a backlog of over 140,000 people who are waiting for their asylum applications to be processed.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pledged to clear much of this by the end of 2023.

Graph showing number of asylum cases awaiting initial decision at the end of September 2012-2022, with cases rising sharply from 2018

Only 4% of people who arrived in the UK in small boats in 2021 have had a decision.

In the UK, people are generally not allowed to work while they wait.

If they have been waiting for more than 12 months for an initial decision, they can apply for permission to work. If it is granted, applicants are only allowed to do jobs which are on the UK shortage occupation list.

EU countries allow applicants to work once they have been waiting for nine months.

In the UK, many asylum seekers are housed in hotels, due to lack of other suitable accommodation, at an estimated cost of £5.5m a day.

Source: BBC

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