Asylum statistics

Asylum statistics

These statistics have been collated from a variety of different sources, which have differing ways of categorising and describing ‘race’ and ethnicity. (For example, some sources differentiate between particular black ‘groups’ whilst others do not. Some sources may just use the term Asian, others may differentiate between different Asian groups or different religious groups.) Where we have used other organisations’ statistics, we have followed the categorisation/names used by them – which means that there may be inconsistencies in terminology within and between pages.


An asylum seeker is a person who has lodged a claim for protection under either the 1951 Refugee Convention or Article 3 (prohibiting torture, or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

According to the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees a refugee, is a person who is outside their country of citizenship because they have well-founded grounds for fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, and is unable to obtain sanctuary from their home country or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country; or in the case of not having a nationality and being outside their country of former habitual residence as a result of such event, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to their country of former habitual residence.

In legal terms such a person is termed an ‘asylum seeker’ until they have been granted asylum, when they can be termed a ‘refugee’.

At the end of 2019, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that there were 79.5 million people throughout the world who had been forcibly displaced from their homes. This means that 1 % of the world’s population is forcibly displaced, or one in every 97 people. UNHCR reports that 40 % of the world’s displaced people are children. The total is now the highest number on record. Nearly double the total of 41 million a decade ago in 2010.

At the end of 2019, the vast majority of refugees, 85 % were hosted in ‘developing countries’. Moreover, 75 % were hosted in countries neighbouring their country of origin. The country hosting the highest number of refugees is Turkey with 3.6 million, followed by Colombia with 1.8 million, Pakistan with 1.4 million, Uganda with 1.4 million and Germany with 1.1 million. UNHCR have reported that just 4.5% of global resettlement needs were met in 2019, meaning that only a small fraction of those at risk or unable to stay in the country to which they had fled, found a safe and lasting solution to their situation.


In the light of public discussion about the number of desperate asylum seekers losing their lives in attempting to cross the Channel from France, we draw attention to figures in November 2021.
The number of people seeking asylum in the UK peaked in the early 2000s with 84,130 applications (excluding dependants) in 2003. Government statistics published in March 2020 listed 35,099 asylum applications. Of these, 3,463 (10 %) were from unaccompanied children.

Statistics published by the University of Oxford Migration Observatory show that 55% of applications including appeals  – 38% at initial decision – made between 2012 and 2016 resulted in the granting of asylum by May 2019. Government statistics, moreover, show that in the year ending March 2020, 54 % of initial decisions made on applications granted protection. Sixty-nine % of applications by unaccompanied children during this period were granted. These positive decisions included the granting of short term leave to remain which expires after a maximum of 2.5 years to 153 children.

People who originally came to the UK to seek asylum made up approximately 0.6 % of the UK population in 2018, as found by the Oxford Migration Observatory.

People seeking asylum in the UK often have to wait a long time to hear the outcome of their applications. The Oxford Migration Observatory found that the share of asylum applications receiving an initial decision within six months fell from 73% in late 2012 to 25% twenty-five per cent in late 2018. Government statistics, moreover, show that in March 2020, of those waiting for a decision on their application for asylum, 51,906 (61% of) people had been waiting for more than six months.


The number of people in the UK detained for ‘immigration purposes’ (by which, what is usually meant is asylum seekers or others detained to facilitate their removal, process asylum/immigration claims or to establish their identity) – in holding or detention centres and prisons – has increased massively since the powers to detain were introduced in the 1970s.

Government statistics show that in 2019 24,443 people entered detention for immigration purposes in the UK. This included 73 children, despite a commitment by the Government in 2010 to end the practice of detaining children. The longest held person detained at any point during 2019 had been held for a total of 1,002 days. According to the Oxford Migration Observatory one third of immigration detainees in 2019 were held for longer than 28 days.

Comprehensive research, as shown by a 2019 report by Medical Justice, has demonstrated that immigration detention in and of itself is harmful to the mental health of detainees and that those with previous trauma or mental health issues are at particular risk of harm. See our Health page for further details. Medical Justice has also demonstrated that between 2000 and 2015 there were at least thirty-five deaths of people in immigration detention. The average age of those who died was 38 and 90% were under 50. Thirteen of these deaths were self-inflicted. Heart attacks were the cause of 20% of deaths.


An individual subject to immigration control can be deported if the Secretary of State deems their removal from the country ‘conducive to the public good’, or when recommended by a court. An individual can be removed if they have violated the conditions of their leave to remain, have violated visa conditions, or have entered the country without permission. An individual can be classed as voluntarily departing the country if enforcement proceedings have been instigated but s/he arranges to leave the country themselves (in conjunction, or not, with one of various ‘voluntary return’ schemes)

As reported by the Oxford Migration Observatory, in 2019 there were 19,000 enforced or voluntary returns from the UK, 7,400 of which were enforced. The majority of those who are deported or removed are not asylum seekers. Statistics show that 3,174 asylum seekers were removed or departed voluntarily during this period.


Asylum seekers are not allowed to work, except in very rare circumstances. Asylum seekers who have not yet had a decision on their claim receive accommodation on a no-choice basis and subsistence financial support if, otherwise, they would be destitute. This is known as ‘Section 95’ support. At the time of writing, in 2021, this support amounts to £39.63 per family member per week. However, once asylum seekers’ application has been accepted, this support stops after just 28-days. If an asylum seeker’s claim is refused, moreover, and they have exhausted their appeal rights, support will stop after 21 days. Faced with a cliff edge and no support to find new housing, open a bank account, and secure income, among other activities needed before being evicted, many refugees are at significant risk of homelessness and/or destitution.

Government statistics show that in March 2020 50,898 people seeking asylum were receiving support from the government under section 95, section 4 (support for whose applications have been rejected) or section 98 (emergency support).


Asylum seekers awaiting decisions are often not held in detention but allocated to specific housing which is overseen by private companies on behalf of the Home Office. Conditions in such places have come in for criticism – for poor food, unhygienic conditions, lack of medical care read about conditions here. These conditions and the isolation of vulnerable people, waiting in trepidation for decisions on their stay, with limited access to healthcare and financial support have had repercussions on physical and mental wellbeing. According to the Guardian, 29 people died in Home Office-provided accommodation (ie a non-custodial setting) in 2020. So as to comply with social distancing ,many  asylum seekers were moved during lockdown to certain city hotels.

Deaths included the following:

5.5.2020 Adnan Olbeh (30), a Kurdish Syrian asylum seeker, who had been tortured, was found dead in McLay’s Hotel, Glasgow, five days after emergency services had been called to attend to him.     

26.6.2020 Badreddin Abadla Adam (28), an asylum seeker from Sudan, was shot dead by police after he had gone berserk and stabbed a number of fellow asylum seekers in Park Hotel, Glasgow.

6.8.2020 Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah Alhabib (41) an asylum seeker from war-torn Yemen, was found dead in a Manchester hotel room.

22.8.2020 Mercy Beguma, an asylum seeker from Uganda, was found dead in a Glasgow flat, her starving son crying beside her body.

9.11.2020 Mohamed Camera (27) an asylum seeker from Ivory Coast found dead in a North London hotel room, after complaining of back pain for some time.


Migration Observatory

Refugee Council

Medical Justice

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees