This Commons Library briefing paper analyses asylum statistics and trends in the UK and other EU countries. Statistics on asylums seekers and refugees in the UK are published by the Home Office and contain data on the number of people applying for asylum and the outcomes of asylum applications. Statistics on asylum seekers and refugees in European Union countries are published in the Home Office bulletin and by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.Jump to full report >>
An asylum seeker is someone who has applied for asylum and is awaiting a decision on whether they will be granted refugee status. An asylum applicant who does not qualify for refugee status may still be granted leave to remain in the UK for humanitarian or other reasons.
An asylum seeker whose application is refused at initial decision may appeal the decision through an appeals process. Asylum applicants initially refused refugee status may be granted leave to remain following an appeal.
A long-term international migrant is someone who changes their country of usual residence for a period of at least a year.
In 2014, there were around 632,000 long-term international immigrants into the UK; around 25,800 of these were asylum seekers, which was 4.1%.
In 2015 the total number of dependants accompanying or subsequently joining main asylum applicants prior to an initial decision being made was 6,464, compared with 7,311 in 2014.
Including dependants, the total number of applicants for asylum received during 2015 was 38,878, up by 20% from 2014 (32,344) and up by 30% from 2013 (29,875).
In 2015 the number of main applicants and dependants was 1.2 times higher than the number of main applicants alone.
This ratio has been relatively stable over time: typically there is around one dependent for every four main applicants for asylum in each year.
The number of asylum applications to the UK peaked in 2002 at 84,132.
After that the number fell sharply to reach a twenty year low point of 17,916 in 2010, before rising slowly to reach 32,414 in 2015. These trends are illustrated in Charts 1 and 2 below.
Chart 1 shows the number of applications for asylum by main applicants in each year from 1984 to 2015.
Chart 2 shows the number of initial decisions during the same period, broken down into asylum grants, other grants, and refusals. Table 1 in the PDF shows the data illustrated in these charts.
Because some asylum applicants who are initially refused asylum can appeal, the number of applicants granted leave to remain at initial decision does not reflect the number who are ultimately successful.
For this reason, the Home Office publishes data on the final outcomes of asylum applications, which shows the outcomes for cohorts of asylum seekers applying in each year.
Because it can take longer than a year for an asylum case to reach its final outcome, this data lags behind the data on initial decisions.
Table 2 in the PDF shows the final outcomes for main applicants applying for asylum in each year from 2004 to 2014. This includes cases where the final outcome is not yet known (there are more of these cases in the most recent years).
Table 3 in the PDF shows the number of main applicants for asylum in each year from 2004 to 2014, the number of these that were refused at initial decision, the number of those refused that appealed, and the number given each outcome, where the outcome is known.
In the period from 2004 to 2014, around three-quarters of main applicants refused asylum at initial decision lodged an appeal, but only around one quarter of those appeals were allowed.
According to the Home Office, the total number of pending cases received for asylum since 2006 was 26,409 at the end of December 2015.
The number of cases pending an initial decision for six months or less increased in the year to December 2015, while the number of cases pending an initial decision for more than six months fell.
The number of asylum applications in EU countries has increased during the last five years. This increase has been partly, but not wholly, driven by the refugee crisis arising from the Syrian civil war.
Chart 8 below shows the number of people applying for asylum in EU countries in each month from January 2009 to December 2015. These figures include both main applicants and dependents.
The total number of people applying for asylum in EU counties increased from a monthly average of 22,000 in 2010 to 110,000 in 2015. Asylum applications in EU countries reached their highest level in October 2015 at 172,000, falling to 109,000 in December 2015.
Table 4 in the PDF shows the number of asylum applications received in European Union countries during the last five calendar years. Total asylum applications in EU countries increased from 310,000 in 2011 to 1.32 million in 2015.
In 2015, Germany received the largest number of asylum applicants among EU countries.
Together, these top five countries received 75% of asylum applications in the EU28.
Chart 9 in the PDF shows the number of asylum applications in EU countries per 10,000 population in 2015.
In 2015, there were six asylum applications for every 10,000 people resident in the UK.
Across the EU28 there were 26 asylum applications for every 10,000 people.
The UK is therefore below the average among EU countries for asylum applications per head of population, ranking 17th among EU28 countries on this measure.
Table 6 in the PDF shows first instance decisions on asylum applications in EU countries in 2015, including the number of grants and refusals. Here, grants include all positive decisions on asylum applications, not just those granted refugee status.
Chart 10 shows the number of positive asylum decisions granted at first instance per 10,000 population in EU countries in 2015.
During this period the largest number of positive first instance asylum decisions per 10,000 people were:
Across the EU28 there were six such grants for every 10,000 people.
In 2015, the UK granted two positive asylum decisions at first instance for every 10,000 people.
The UK is therefore below the average among EU countries for positive first instance asylum grants per head of population, ranking 14th among EU28 countries on this measure.
Table 7 in the PDF shows recognition rates at first instance decision for the largest national groups whose asylum applications to EU countries were decided 2015.
The recognition rate is the share of positive decisions in the total number of asylum decisions at a particular stage of the asylum procedure.
In 2015, 97% of Syrian nationals were granted a positive asylum decision at first instance. By contrast, a little more than 1% of Serbian nationals were granted a positive asylum decision at first instance. Among all nationalities the recognition rate at first instance was 51%.
In 2015, 35% of main applicants were nationals of African countries, 29% were nationals of Asian countries, 26% were nationals of countries in the Middle East,5 and 7% were from Europe. Less than 3% of main applicants were from countries in the Americas, Oceania, and other parts of the world.
Chart 6 shows the broad nationalities of main applicants for asylum in each year from 2001 to 2015.
In 2015, the countries from which the largest number of asylum applicants came to the UK were from:
Syria’s rank on this measure increased from 27th in 2010 to 4th in 2015. In 2010 there were 127 main applicants for asylum from Syria, compared with 2,609 in 2014.
Table 5 in the PDF shows the ten largest groups of foreign nationals applying for asylum in EU countries in 2015.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that the number of refugees displaced from Syria into neighbouring countries by the Syrian civil war has grown from around 10,000 at the start of 2012 to around 4.8 million in March 2016.
This is around a quarter of Syria’s estimated population in mid-2012, which was 20 million.
The figure includes
The figures do not include Syrians who have sought refuge further afield in Europe and beyond.
Chart 11 in the PDF shows the number of applications for asylum in EU countries by Syrian nationals in each month from January 2009 to December 2015. The monthly average number of applications has increased from around 400 in 2010 to around 31,000 in 2015.
In the 2015, Germany granted the largest number of positive asylum decisions to Syrian nationals at first instance.
The United Kingdom granted 2,053 positive asylum decisions at first instance to main applicants and dependants who were Syrian nationals during this period.
Between January 2012 and December 2015, 5,850 Syrian nationals were granted a positive asylum decision at first instance in the UK.
A further 1,337 Syrian nationals were resettled in the UK through the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme between its launch in January 2014 and the end of December 2015.