Find out about refugees

Refugee facts and figures

When it comes to refugees we want to separate fact from fiction. Here you can find out a little about refugees in the UK and the work the British Red Cross does to support them.

Volunteer offering help to female refugee

Right now, one per cent of the world’s population - or one in 97 people - have been forced to flee their homes according to the UN Refugee Agency.

This has nearly doubled compared to ten years ago and 40 per cent of this group are children.

The majority of displaced people, 85 per cent, now live in developing countries. And 73 per cent are in neighbouring countries or places close to the country they have fled. 

What's the difference between refugees and asylum seekers?

There’s often confusion around the labels used to describe refugees, which can be unhelpful.

Below, we look at the most common terms used to describe people who leave their countries for different reasons.

Asylum seekers

A person seeking asylum:

  • flees their home
  • 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 waiting for a decision.

How many asylum seekers are in the UK?

In 2020, the UK received applications for asylum for 37,550 people (including dependants). This is around three times less than the number of applications received each by Germany (124,380), France (103,370) and Spain (108,225).

Around 43 per cent of people seeking asylum in the UK in 2020 were women and children. Overall, eight per cent were children who had arrived in the UK alone without a parent or guardian. 

You can find out more in the Home Office national statistics on asylum and on the Refugee Council website.

Refugees

A refugee:

  • has proven that they’d be at risk if returned to their home country
  • has had their claim for asylum accepted by the government
  • has permission to stay in the UK either long term or indefinitely.

Refugees have a right under UK and international law to bring their immediate family members to join them.

We help refugees reunite with their families through our family reunion work.

Refused asylum seekers

A refused asylum seeker:

  • hasn’t been able to prove that they would face persecution back home
  • has been denied protection by the authorities
  • must now leave the country – unless they want to appeal the decision or it isn’t safe or practical for them to return home (for example, they have a serious health condition or can’t get the documents they need to travel).

Migrants

A migrant::

  • has moved to another country, for example to work, study or join family members
  • may be living there temporarily or permanently depending on their situation.

You can learn more about displaced people from the UN Refugee Agency.

Family reunion

Refugees have a right under UK and international law to bring their immediate family members to join them. We help refugees reunite with their families through our family reunion work.

Our family reunion service helps on average 2,500 family members reunite with their refugee sponsors each year. Without this, thousands of refugee families would not have safe routes to see their loved ones again.

Our work with refugees and people seeking asylum

The British Red Cross has a long tradition of supporting refugees and asylum seekers after they flee trauma and persecution. We are the biggest single provider of this support in the UK and run services across the country.

.We help in many ways, from giving emergency food and clothing, to giving casework support and friendly advice to those settling into a new, unfamiliar place.

We also work with young refugees in a few areas across the UK, giving them the help and support they need to settle into their new surroundings and live independently.

Beyond facts and figures

Hear from people seeking asylum and refugees about their experiences of seeking protection and life in the UK.