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Facts about refugees in the UK

It's easy to feel confused when there is so much disinformation in the media - here are the most up to date facts and statistics about the UK's refugee community

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The global picture

In mid-2023 117.3 million people worldwide had been displaced from their homes as a result of violence or persecution. 

The majority (75%) of the world’s refugees and other people in need of international protection are currently living in low- and middle-income countries (with the largest proportions living in Turkey, Iran, Colombia, Germany, and Pakistan).  

Refugees and asylum seekers in the UK

There are approximately 448,600 refugees in the UK. The war in Ukraine and the conflict in Afghanistan have driven increases in these figures from previous years.

Of the top 10 nationalities applying for asylum, half have a grant rate above 80% (Afghanistan 98%, Syria 99%, Eritrea 99%, Sudan 99% and Iran 84%).

At the end of March 2024, 118,329 people were waiting on a decision for their asylum claim. 78,907 had been waiting over six months. 

Most of our clients (69%) spent over a year waiting to receive their refugee status, with some waiting considerably longer. One in ten waited more than six years, and one in 20 waited longer than 10 years 

While they wait, most asylum seekers are not permitted to work, cannot choose where they live, and rely on government cash grants equivalent to £7 per day for food, sanitation and clothing. 

Alternatively, many asylum seekers end up in detention centres, where conditions for them can be extremely challenging. 16,031 people were placed in detention centres by March 2024.

Barriers to employment for refugees

Refugees living in the UK face a variety of barriers to employment, including:

  • employment gaps on CVs due to the lengthy asylum process
  • lack of UK work experience
  • limited understanding of the UK job market and no professional networks
  • non-recognition of qualifications
  • language barriers
  • cultural differences
  • public misconceptions and discrimination.

84% of refugees reported that they did not have sufficient English language ability to get a job. Support with these issues is very limited – in some places waiting lists for English classes are two years long, and the majority of those in classes say that the classes they are doing are not sufficient to learn the language.  

As a result, refugees in the UK are 4 times more likely to be unemployed than people born here, and on average earn about half the amount per week that UK nationals do. This is despite high levels of qualifications and skills. For example, 45% of clients that we worked with were educated to degree level or above, and 77% had at least three years work experience.

A report from the Commission on the Integration of Refugees found that if applications for asylum were processed within six months and people were therefore able to work, refugees also received tailored employment support after six months, and refugees and asylum seekers received free English classes from arrival, there would be an overall net economic benefit of £1.2billion for the UK economy within 5 years.

  • 448 k

    There were 448,600 refugees in the UK in 2023

  • 85 %

    of the top 10 nationalities applying for asylum have their application accepted

  • 118 k

    There are nearly 118,000 pending asylum applications in the UK

  • 3

    Our clients wait on average for three years for their refugee status to be granted

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The reality

Go beyond the numbers and data, and follow five refugees as they start new lives and navigate temporary accommodation, employment, love, family and education in the UK.

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