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Refugee facts and figures

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We’re all familiar with the scare stories about asylum seekers ‘flooding’ the UK. But how do these tales of mass invasion stand up against the statistical data?

Have a look at some facts and figures.

How many people in the UK are asylum seekers?

There are an estimated 60 million people throughout the world  who have been forced to flee their homes. The numbers of protracted conflicts have increased. This has created more than 15 million refugees worldwide - but developing countries host over 80 per cent of people.

There are an estimated 117,234 refugees living in the UK. That's just 0.18 per cent of the total population (64.1 million people).

How many asylum seekers came to the UK in 2015?

The UK received 38,878 asylum applications (including dependents). 

This was less than Germany (431,000), Sweden (163,000), and Hungary (163,000).

Just 45 per cent of cases were granted asylum and allowed to stay once their cases had been fully concluded.

Many are initially refused because it is difficult to provide the evidence needed to meet the strict criteria of a refugee. 

Which countries do asylum seekers come from?

More than half of the world's refugees (60 per cent) came from just five countries: 

Numbers of people per country:

  • Syria: 4.2 million
  • Afghanistan: 2.6 million
  • Somalia: 1.1 million
  • Sudan: 744,000
  • South Sudan: 641,000 

What do the terms mean? 

In the eyes of much of the UK public, the terms ‘refugee’, ‘asylum seeker’ and ‘migrant’ have almost blurred into one. This is far from the truth (and far from helpful).

Here's a handy guide to the different terms:

Asylum seeker

  • flees their homeland
  • arrives in another country , whichever way they can
  • makes themselves known to the authorities
  • submits an asylum application
  • has a legal right to stay in the country while awaiting a decision.


  • has proven to the authorities that they would be at risk if returned to their home country
  • has had their claim for asylum accepted by the government
  • can now stay here either long-term or indefinitely.

Refused asylum seeker

  • has been unable to prove that they would face persecution back home
  • has been denied protection by the authorities
  • must now leave the country, unless they wish to appeal the decision or there are legitimate reasons why they cannot yet return home.

Economic migrant

  • has moved to another country to work
  • could be legally or illegally resident, depending on how they entered the country
  • may or may not have a legal work permit.

Sources: Home Office, Immigration Statistics, Oct to Dec 2015; UNHCR mid-year report 2015; Office for National Statistics (mid 2013).

Why are refugees entitled to bring their families to the UK?

Refugees have a legal right, under UK and international law, to bring their families over to the UK to join them. 

Our figures show that at least 580 Syrian refugees came to the UK under a family reunion visa between January and September 2016, including 280 children. Many arrived directly from areas of conflict, including Aleppo. 

During the same period at least 487 refugee children from other countries, including Iraq and Sudan, arrived in the UK after being granted a family reunion visa.


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