Country facts

  • UK population: 67 million
  • Number of asylum applications in the year ending September 2023: 75,340
  • Number of pending asylum cases at the end of 2023: 98,599
  • Percentage of population that are refugees: 1%

IRC response

  • Started work in the UK: 2021
  • Provides integration support to refugees and their local communities.

Crisis briefing

People fleeing for their lives and seeking safety in the UK must be treated with fairness, compassion and dignity. Britain has a proud history of offering safety and sanctuary to people in need, but more recently it’s failing to live up to this legacy. Only 766 people were granted protection through the UK's core resettlement schemes in the year ending September 2023. This is 45% fewer than the previous year. 

Between September 2022 and September 2023, there were 75,340 asylum applications made, relating to 93,296 people. 75% of initial decisions made have been grants of protection, meaning they have been awarded refugee status or humanitarian protection. 

In the year ending September 2023, the top five countries of origin of people seeking asylum were Afghanistan, Iran, Albania, India and Iraq.

What is the current situation in the UK?

The ‘Illegal Migration Act’ became a law in July 2023 which proposes that anyone who arrives to the UK by ‘irregular’ routes - such as small boats - will have their asylum claim deemed ‘inadmissible’. This means the Home Office won’t even consider someone’s claim. The UNHCR have said this amounts to an asylum ban

Those arriving irregularly could be detained indefinitely and then removed either to their own country, or a “safe third country” if that’s not possible.

One of the countries the Government is planning to send asylum seekers to is Rwanda.

In April 2022, the UK and Rwanda signed an agreement referred to as the 'Migration and Economic Development Partnership' or the 'Rwanda Plan'. This agreement would permit the UK to deport people seeking asylum in Britain to Rwanda.

Here, asylum seekers would have their claims processed and would remain in Rwanda if they got refugee status. 

In November 2023, the UK Supreme Court ruled the Rwanda Plan to be unlawful because  asylum seekers being sent there face the risk of being sent back to their country of origin where they could be in danger. This is known as 'refoulement'.

In response, the Prime Minister agreed a new treaty with Rwanda in December 2023 and brought forward new legislation; the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill. Together these aim to address the concerns of the Supreme Court, by including provisions to strengthen the asylum system in Rwanda (via the treaty) and declare Rwanda to be a ‘safe country’ in UK law (through the Bill).

The House of Lords is currently examining the new Safety of Rwanda Bill. If passed, Rwanda would officially be considered safe under UK law allowing the Rwanda Plan to come into effect. 

It is not illegal to seek asylum in the UK. The UK is a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which stipulates that people can seek asylum in any country they choose.

The Illegal Migration Act, by deeming asylum seekers inadmissible and deporting them to countries like Rwanda, is effectively outsourcing the UK’s responsibilities as a global power.

Instead of pursuing this approach, the UK Government should address the fact that there is no safe route to claim asylum by improving safe pathways to the UK, and running a fair and effective asylum system so people can move on with their lives.

What are the main challenges in the UK?

Even for those who manage to secure legal status to work in the UK, many refugees face a number of barriers to finding jobs despite bringing skills and education along with an eagerness to contribute to their new communities. The IRC knows that access to the workforce is key to successful integration. 

Despite arriving safely in Britain, refugees still face significant challenges on the pathway to rebuilding their lives, such as access to education, language barriers and access to basic services.

We know that when refugees are welcomed and offered the opportunity they can thrive. Local communities in Britain stand to benefit greatly from welcoming refugees. 

Refugees are an asset to the UK, enriching local communities whilst also making an important economic contribution. They can support the local economy by starting their own businesses, providing jobs, and filling jobs in sectors facing labour shortages. 

How does the IRC help in the UK?

The IRC works in partnership with local councils to provide better integration support to refugees, asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants living in the UK from Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Iraq, Sudan and beyond. 

Support is provided through various activities, including our Refugee Employability Programme, orientation for newcomers, peer mentorship and leadership training. Find out more about how the IRC supports refugees in the UK.

The IRC’s Healing Classrooms delivers training sessions for teachers and support staff across the UK to provide safe and supportive learning environments for refugees. The IRC also provides practical advice and resources on how to incorporate social-emotional learning into the curriculum. 

The IRC also works together with both Parliament and Government in strengthening the UK's policies and responses to crises and conflicts around the world. Find out more about the IRC's work in Westminster.

Rescue stories

I want to be a professional fashion designer in my traditional Afghani dress. I want to recreate this style and bring it into the current style.
Saghar Khalid
Journalist Saghar was forced to leave her home in Afghanistan with her husband two years ago. Despite arriving in the UK with limited English skills, Saghar hasn’t let that stand in the way of her dream to become a fashion designer.
Read more
Saghar's story of creativity