Unfortunately the media in Britain plays a significant role in corrupting the minds of well meaning citizens of our community and causing a lot of anxiety amongst asylum seekers in the UK. Everyone who comes to Britain to live and work has a story to tell. The story of an asylum seeker is always that of fear. Many of them flee their country by any and all means possible because of fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or possession of a certain political stance – essentially for who they are.

Where has our compassion gone? We hear a lot about how asylum seekers are taking our jobs, taking advantage of our benefit system, being given priority over social housing and so on. If there is any truth in these, it would be because of a failure in government policies and not because of immigration. However, these are myths being portrayed as truth. There is so much misinformation and misunderstanding about immigration and asylum and sadly the media isn’t helping particularly in the run up to the General Election. It is worth taking a moment to dispel some of the entrenched myths I have come across in my five years of Immigration and Asylum Practice. But first I need to make a distinction between an asylum seeker, a refugee and an illegal immigrant.

In the UK when a person makes an application for asylum they are referred to as an asylum seeker. However, if their application is successful they are granted refugee status and are referred to as a refugee. A refugee is granted a five year leave to remain in the UK without any condition The Home Office can at any time before the end of the five year period revoke a refugee status and if not, Indefinite Leave to Remain (indefinite visa) would be granted. A person is an illegal immigrant if they enter the UK without a visa and have not made themselves known to the authorities, or where they have overstayed, or failed to comply with the conditions of their visa without a reasonable excuse.

Myths and Facts

Myth – Asylum seekers take our jobs. This is not true.

Fact – Asylum seekers are not normally allowed to work. However, they can apply for permission to work only in occupations with a shortage of suitable candidates and they must meet certain strict conditions.

Myth – Asylum seekers take our benefits. This is not true.

Fact – Asylum seekers do not have access to mainstream benefits. However, those who are at risk of homelessness and destitution may be able to apply for housing and money through asylum support previously known as National Asylum Support Service (NASS) and not through the local authorities. Asylum support is means tested with very strict terms and ceases when an asylum claim is finally decided.

Myth – Asylum seekers are draining our economy. This is not true.

Fact – There is no single profile of an asylum seeker. They come from all works of life in their country of origin. They may be highly skilled professionals fleeing their country because their lives and those of their children are in serious danger. If they are granted Refugee status many of them initially may have English language and cultural barriers, but when they overcome those barriers they provide an extremely valuable contribution to our community.

Myth – Asylum seekers are illegal immigrants. This is not true.

Fact – Asylum seekers flee their country of origin for fear of being persecuted. When they arrive in the UK they are required to make their claim in person at the port of entry or by appointment at the Asylum Screening Unit in Croydon. They are legally permitted and registered to remain in the UK while their application is being decided. Asylum support can be denied to those who do not make a claim generally within 3 days after arriving in the UK. Illegal immigrants on the other hand are not legally permitted to remain in the UK.

Myth – The asylum process is allowing too many asylum seekers into the UK. This is not true.

Fact – The UK has a very tightly managed asylum process. Asylum seekers have to jump through hoops to prove that there is a serious possibility that they will be persecuted if they were returned to their country of origin. They need to provide evidence to support their claim. Obtaining such evidence can be extremely difficult. The detained fast-track procedure whereby the asylum decision and appeal are expedited has an extremely low success rate of around 1%. The Home Office has the power to certify asylum or human rights claims as clearly unfounded and, therefore, any such claim made will fail. There is a presumption that all claims from asylum seekers from certain listed countries are clearly unfounded. This significantly reduces the number of asylum seekers coming to the UK from those countries. The list is regularly updated.