accessibility & help

UK public understand asylum - but many still hold negative beliefs

Monday 14th June 2010

For further information please contact

Henry Makiwa

Telephone: 020 7877 7479, Out of office hours: 07659 145095


One in four British people still believe asylum seekers come to Britain to claim benefits, according an ICM poll for the British Red Cross.

Even though 89 per cent correctly said the definition of an asylum seeker is someone fleeing persecution in their own country, 28 per cent still thought an asylum seeker is someone who has come to this country to illegally look for work.

The results of the poll – which surveyed over 2,000 people - show conflicting opinions and a lack of knowledge about the legal definition of asylum.

The results of the ICM poll for the British Red Cross are published ahead of this year’s Refugee Week (14th – 20th of June). The Refugee Week is a UK-wide programme of arts, cultural and educational events that celebrates the contribution of refugees in the UK, and encourages a better understanding between communities.

Questioned about the level of support asylum seekers fleeing persecution are given, the majority of people overestimated the amount of money asylum seekers are given each week.

57 per cent of people thought that asylum seekers were given vouchers to cover living expenses up to £100 a week. 

14 per cent thought the weekly amount was over £100.

In reality, asylum seekers receive accommodation and vouchers equalling just £35 a week. Refused asylum seekers on the other hand, do not receive any support at all. Putting it into context, the national job seekers allowance is around £60 a week – although the total varies on a case by case basis.

Nick Scott-Flynn, the British Red Cross head of refugee services said: “These findings point to a general lack of knowledge, with most people assuming asylum seekers are given more financial support than they actually receive. From our experience, we know that the vast majority of asylum seekers are not here to claim benefits, but come to this country to escape conflict, persecution or other dangers in their lives.

He added: “In addition, there are thousands of refused asylum seekers whose lives are in a limbo. They are unable to work and provide for themselves, deprived of accommodation and denied healthcare and therefore destitute.”

The publication of the British Red Cross findings coincides with the launch of a social networking poll today.

The “Look Beyond the Label” campaign urges people to call for an end of destitution among asylum seekers in the UK by registering a vote on the charity’s webpage; 

The campaign is fronted by an interactive viral video featuring Hollywood stars Dougray Scott (Mission Impossible II, Desperate Housewives and new ITV1 series, Father & Son); Karen David (Scorpion King: Rise of a Warrior, Waterloo Road, upcoming  BBC series Game Over and singer whose new single Hypnotize is doing well on the charts) and stand up comedian Stephen K Amos whose new show starts on BBC 2 this summer.  

Karen said, “As an actress and musician I am constantly aware of the world around me as I draw inspiration from my experiences. It pains me that in this day, in our country there are thousands of people seeking refugee in the free world, yet denied of proper housing, healthcare, food and employment.”

Margaret O'Donnell, British Red Cross head of digital media said:
“Our campaign seeks to harness the power of social networks and address real issues on digital media platforms.

“This year we are asking people to look beyond labels like 'refugee' and 'asylum seeker' and use their online networks to advocate for an end to destitution in the UK.

“Now, more than ever, people can make their voices heard by taking a stand using social media. Sharing, tweeting and discussing the issues of destitution and asylum, allows people to speak out in their own digital communities to ask for change to a process that results in thousands of people each year living in destitution."

For more information visit


Notes to editors
• For interviews or more information contact Henry Makiwa on 02078777479 or 07877499038

• The multi-media aspects of Look Beyond the Label campaign comprise of an e-mailable video, while a sharable the Facebook app can be found here:

• The Refugee Week is a UK-wide programme of arts, cultural and educational events that celebrates the contribution of refugees in the UK, and encourages a better understanding between communities. The British Red Cross is one of ten partner agencies involved. Refugee Week is a multi-agency project. The partner agencies currently include: Amnesty International UK, British Red Cross, the Children's Society, City of Sanctuary, the Home Office, Oxfam, Refugee Action, Refugee Council, Scottish Refugee Council, STAR (Student Action for Refugees), UNHCR and Welsh Refugee Council.
To find out more please go to:

1. Website:
2. Simple Acts:
3. Twitter: 

• The Simple Acts campaign is about inspiring individuals to use small, everyday actions to change perceptions of refugees.It consists of 20 actions that can be done by anyone and that encourage us to learn and do more with refugees. With every person who joins the campaign and does a small thing with and for refugees, we get a little closer to removing barriers between communities and to creating the kind of world we all want to live in.

• The British Red Cross teamed up with, animator Tom Munday, film production company Nutmeg Productions and global creative media and technology agency LBI to create the film and innovative social media toolkit to make sharing the message and changing online profiles fun and impactful.

• For events please visit:

The British Red Cross helps people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are. We are part of a global voluntary network, responding to conflicts, natural disasters and individual emergencies.

We enable vulnerable people in the UK and abroad to prepare for and withstand emergencies in their own communities. And when the crisis is over, we help them to recover and move on with their lives.