What has happened to the UK's asylum system?

The Nationality and Borders Bill has been passed into law. This is what it's likely to mean for people seeking protection in the UK


Last updated 25 April 2023

At the end of April 2022, the Nationality and Borders Bill was approved by Parliament and has now been passed into law. 

At the British Red Cross, we believe a person’s need for protection and therefore their ability to claim asylum should be judged on the dangers they have faced and not on how they enter this country. 


What are the changes?

According to the bill, for the first time, people arriving in the UK seeking protection as a refugee will have their claim assessed based on how they arrived into the country, rather than the dangers they have fled. 

Under the proposed changes, those who arrive in an ‘unofficial’ way such as by crossing the channel will no longer receive the same protection even if they then go on to be recognised as a refugee.

Instead, they will have ‘temporary protection’ in the UK with limited rights to reunite with their families or access welfare support.  

What does this mean for people seeking asylum?

We are concerned about the effects of these changes, which could affect women, men and children fleeing conflicts such as Syria, Afghanistan, and now Ukraine.

These people could be among those penalised or denied support, simply because they couldn’t get onto an official scheme. A person seeking asylum here could be prevented from accessing vital services. At worst, the changes could make it almost impossible for them to have their asylum claim heard at all, or even mean people are criminalised and put in prison.

Above all, the proposed changes make it even more difficult for women, men and children to seek protection in the UK.

Why are we worried?

In the chaos of conflict, it’s not always possible to grab your passport and other official documents, and there often aren’t ‘official’ routes to be able to take to find safety.

We know that people fleeing violence, war or persecution are often forced to make dangerous journeys – journeys that are made as an absolute last resort. They make them because of a lack of options for safe and ‘official’ routes to seek safety and, as we have seen before, sometimes tragically die on these journeys.  

We know that women, men and children will continue to search for safety in any way they can, and many will risk their lives to come to the UK in doing so. 

UNHCR records show that last year, the UK received less than half of the number of asylum applications as Germany or France. With one in 97 people in the world currently forcibly displaced from their homes, the UK must play its part in finding solutions.  

Women, men and children forced to flee their homes should be able to seek safety without putting their lives at risk. 

What are we doing? 

Since 2021, we have helped over 40,000 people through our refugee programmes. This includes: 

  • Helping reunite 376 families by supporting them through the reunion visa application process
  • Funding the travel arrangements that allowed separated loved ones to come back together
  • Providing care and support to 175 people who have been victims of modern slavery and trafficking. 

We believe that people seeking safety in the UK should have access to the support they need no matter how they arrive here, which includes a safe and secure place to call home. Refugees should be able to move forward with their lives, contribute to society and fulfil their potential. 

We are calling for a kinder and more compassionate way to treat refugees. This includes making fair decisions based on someone’s need for protection and not on the way they arrived here.  

Listen to the We Are VOICES podcast to hear first-hand what it’s like to be a refugee in the UK.

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Refugees have experienced the worst challenges in life – but together, we can show the very best of humankind. Please donate if you can and help us continue our support, in the UK and around the world.