Refugees: Dispelling Myths

There is a lot of conflicting terminology that surrounds refugees. The media often mixes up the terms ‘migrant’, ‘refugee’, ‘asylum seeker’ and ‘immigrant’. So how are these words actually defined? And what is the UK really doing to support those who seek entry from overseas?




A person who moves from one place to another in order to find work or better living conditions.

N/B This could be an expat.


A person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country.

N/B This could also be an expat. Many British people decide to live permanently in foreign countries and/or work abroad for many years.

Asylum seeker

Someone who has left their home country and applied for recognition as a refugee in another country and is waiting for a decision on their application.

Only asylum seekers who are granted refugee status are allowed to work in the country.

The majority of asylum seekers do not have the right to work in the United Kingdom and so must rely on state support. Housing is provided, but asylum seekers cannot choose where it is, and it is often ‘hard to let’ properties which Council tenants do not want to live in. Cash support is available, and is currently set at £36.95 per person, per week, which makes it £5.28 a day for food, sanitation and clothing. They receive no money for transportation.
(Source: Home Office)


A person who has left their home country because they are afraid of being persecuted. As a result they cannot seek protection from their home country.

When a person has been given refugee status the Home Office has acknowledged that they cannot return to their country of origin for their own safety. They may have been tortured or worried for their lives.


Internally displaced person (IDP)

A person who has been forced to move within his or her own country as a result of conflict, natural disaster, etc.

Citizens of New Orleans who had to seek refuge after Hurricane Katrina should have technically been referred to as IDPs. They were still American citizens, however many news reporters classed them incorrectly as refugees. This was discussed on NBC news and NPR.

Asylum Seekers in the UK

Far fewer people come to the UK to apply for asylum than you might think.
More than 50 million people throughout the world were forced to flee their homes last year. There are more than 13 million refugees worldwide – but developing countries host over 80% of people.

There are an estimated 126,000 refugees living in the UK. That’s just 0.19% of the total population (64.1 million people).

In 2014 the UK received 31,400 asylum applications. This was less than Germany (166,800), France (63,100), Italy (56,300) and Sweden (81,300).

Just 41% of people applying for an initial decision were granted asylum and allowed to stay.

Many are initially refused because it is difficult to provide the evidence needed to meet the strict criteria of a refugee.

(Source: British Red Cross)

This year Birmingham agreed to take just 50 Syrian refugees. This is an incredibly small number when you consider that by the end of August 2014, the UN estimated 6.5 million people had been displaced within Syria, while more than 3 million refugees had fled to countries such as Lebanon (1.14 million), Jordan (608,000) and Turkey (815,000).


How to Help

Asylum seekers are required to have been in the UK for six months before being permitted to participate in Skills Funding Agency (SFA) funded courses.

(Source: Refugee Council)

It is possible to teach English as a volunteer with refugee charities. This will be vital in the first six months when asylum seekers or refugees are not allowed to attend classes.

Here are a few of the charities in the UK dedicated to helping refugees:

British Red Cross
Restore UK
Refugee Action
Refugee Council

It is possible to donate money to and/or volunteer with these charities to show your support.

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