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

What the terms mean

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

An asylum seeker:

  • 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.

In 2018, the UK received applications for asylum for 37,453 people (including dependants). This is far less than Germany (162,000), France (110,000), Greece (65,000) and Italy (49,000).

In the same year, there were five asylum applications for every 10,000 people living in the UK. Across the EU, there were 14 asylum applications for every 10,000 people.

The UK is below the European average for asylum applications and ranks 17th among EU countries per head of population. 

Asylum seekers were around five per cent of immigrants to the UK in 2018.

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


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
  • can now stay here 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.

Our family reunion travel assistance service helped around 2,100 family members reunite with their refugee sponsors in 2017. Without this, thousands of refugee families would not have safe and legal routes to see their loved ones again.

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).

Economic migrants

An economic migrant:

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

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

Our work with refugees and asylum seekers

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.

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.