The UK is home to 1% of the world’s refugees.
The 1951 Refugee Convention guarantees everybody the right to apply for asylum. It has saved millions of lives, and no country has ever withdrawn from it.
Coventry prides itself on being the city of welcome, and Coventry City Council signed up to two major resettlement schemes over the past few years, which committed to resettle 125 people per year.
However those particular schemes are due to end in 2020, and new provision will come in the form of a different resettlement process, announced by the Government last year.
In 2020 the UK received 35,099 asylum applications, lower than the peak of asylum applications to the UK in 2002, at 84,132.
So what does this mean for Coventry, and what is the difference between an asylum seeker and a refugee?
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What is the difference between an asylum seeker, refugee and migrant?
An asylum seeker is someone whose claim to be a refugee is pending. A person applies for asylum on the grounds that return to their home country would lead to persecution. Not every asylum seeker becomes a refugee, but every refugee was initially an asylum seeker.
A refugee is a person fleeing armed conflict or persecution, whose situation has been recognised as so perilous, they are granted safety in another country. They are protected by international law.
An economic migrant is is someone who leaves his or her country of origin purely for financial and/or economic reasons. Economic migrants choose to move in order to find a better life and they do not flee because of persecution.
Watch: The experiences of Coventry’s local refugee community
Do you have to claim asylum in the first country you arrive in?
No, there is nothing in international law to say that refugees must claim asylum in the first country they reach. The Refugee Council said: “A European regulation allows a country such as the UK to return an adult asylum seeker to the first European country they reached. This means that countries on the edge of Europe have responsibility for a lot more asylum seekers than others.
“Some of the countries through which people travel to get to Europe are unsafe for some. Many have not signed the Refugee Convention, meaning that people who remain there will not get international protection and be able to rebuild their lives.”
Do asylum seekers receive benefits?
The vast majority of asylum seekers are denied the right to work whilst their claim is pending, and therefore rely on state support.
The current rate for an asylum seeker living on state support is £37.75 per person per week, or £5.39 a day.
Almost 30,000 people last year had been waiting more than six months for a decision on their claim – whilst living on as little as £5 per day. As reported in the CoventryLive newsletter in June, there are increasing calls from local and national groups to allow asylum seekers to work whilst a decision is made on their application.
At a debate held in June, Coventry North West MP Taiwo Owatemi said that “talented, skilful people” – often doctors, teachers, academics, IT professionals and labourers – are being left to wait, when they could contribute to the economy.
Why are asylum seekers housed in hotels?
When the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, the Government secured extra capacity from accommodation providers to ensure no one was left out on the streets, particularly during lockdown.
The Home Office said : “It has been necessary to temporarily house a proportion of asylum seekers in hotels to make sure they are able to follow social distancing guidelines.”
They went on to say: “As well as ensuring that people could comply with the health guidance in place at the time, this avoided placing pressure on local authorities, who were also procuring hotel accommodation for UK rough sleepers.
“This is a temporary measure and we are constantly reviewing this policy in line with public health guidance and have asked local authorities to support our efforts to procure sufficient Dispersed Accommodation so we can move people on from hotels quickly.”
Just last month, a Syrian asylum seeker who had fled for his life, and now lived in a Coventry hotel, told CoventryLive of the impact that not being able to work has had. He said: “I came in a lorry with friends and at first I was taken by the police between stations and detention centres. This went on for maybe two days. I didn’t know where I was. Then I came to Coventry. I’m a barber but I can’t make any plans until I have a licence to work. I’ll just have to wait for the future.
“We were being bombed [in Syria] and I had no choice but to join the army. I didn’t want to kill other people or be killed myself.”
Figures taken from the Refugee Council, Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre ,Amnesty International, and UNHCR.