Shropshire Council

Refugees and asylum seekers

What is a refugee?

Under the 1951 United Nations convention, a refugee is defined as:

“A person who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

This means that:

  • A refugee has proven to the UK authorities that they would be at risk if returned to their home country or they are unable to seek protection in their home country
  • A refugee’s fear of persecution has to be well-founded, eg they have to have experienced the persecution personally or be likely to experience it personally if they return to their home country
  • A refugee has had their claim for asylum accepted by the government

A refugee is granted the right to remain in the UK for five years before their case is reassessed.

What is an asylum seeker?

The Refugee Council defines an asylum seeker as:

“Someone who has fled persecution in their homeland, has arrived in another country, made themselves known to the authorities and exercised the legal right to apply for asylum.”

This means that:

  • Asylum seekers have applied to live in the UK because they fear persecution in their home country
  • The Home Office will consider their case, during which time they can stay in the country
  • An asylum seeker's application may be refused or accepted

Asylum seekers can stay in the country whilst their application for asylum is being assessed. This may take several months. During this time they can't work, nor receive government benefits. They may have their application for asylum refused, and in this case they must leave the UK. If their application for asylum is accepted, they become a refugee and may stay in the UK for five years, and are then able to seek work.

What is the difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker?

Asylum seekers are waiting for the Home Office to make a decision about their application to stay in the UK. They're not able work whilst their case is being assessed. They can legally stay in the UK until their case has been assessed.

Refugees have had their application accepted and can stay in the UK for five years. Refugees are allowed to work, must pay taxes and are entitled to the same benefits as any other citizen.