Claiming asylum in the UK – What you need to know

last update: May 2012

This is for information only. It is not immigration advice.

'Asylum' is when the government lets you stay in a country because you are a refugee (see below for what it means to be a refugee). The asylum system in the UK is complicated and we recommend that you read this information first if you plan on coming to the UK.

If you want to claim asylum:

•    If you want to claim asylum it is very important that you ask for it as soon as possible after you arrive in the UK, at the UK Border Agency offices in Croydon (near London). Call the UK Border Agency when you arrive to make an appointment: 020 8196 4524. You can go there without calling first but they may not be able to see you if they are busy.
•    Warning: If you take a long time to ask for asylum, you must show that you have a good reason for waiting – for example, if your smuggler (mafia) told you to wait – otherwise they may refuse you asylum. It is a crime not to have a passport, but it is not a crime if you never used one during your journey to the UK. If the government believes you have come through another European country on the way to the UK, you are likely to be returned to that country. See the section on Dublin II and Dublin & the UK.

What you need to show to get asylum:

You will need to show the Home Office that your life or safety is in real danger in your  country because of one of these reasons: your race; religion; nationality; political opinion; or membership of a particular social group (for example, being a woman or gay in some countries). You also need to show that your government cannot protect you in any part of the country.

Think carefully about which category applies to you and how your story fits in with them. Even if you are refused asylum, there might be other reasons (called 'humanitarian grounds') that may allow you to stay in the UK, such as your family situation, or if you are under the age of 18. Ask about that!

It is important that you prepare your story well from the beginning, and get evidence (proof - for example: death threats, ID/membership cards, letters from the police or court, or other documents depending on the case) before you leave your country if this is possible.

The Asylum Interview

You will have two important interviews: one to see how you travelled to the UK to make sure you cannot be deported under Dublin; and another one about why you want asylum. The second interview will be quite long and they will ask you many questions. Here is some information that may help:

•    It is important that you know your story very well and to try to remember all the details abut what happened to you – events, places, names and dates. Write them down if that helps.
•    An interpreter should be provided for the interview, but say if you cannot understand the interpreter and they should find you another one.
•    It is also very important not to change your answers in your interview, even if the questions do not seem important. They might ask you the same questions twice or more. Try not to accidently give different answers, otherwise they may say that you are lying and this is a reason not to give people asylum.
•    Do not answer questions if you are feeling tired or sick. You can always ask for a break.

Here are some very important things you will need to explain during your asylum interview:

1. Why did you leave your country? What happened which made you leave?

2. Who exactly are you afraid of? For example, a person, security branch, a police unit?

3.  Why can’t your government protect you from these people? Why can't you live in a different part of the country?

4. What could happen to you if you went back to your country?

5. Do you have any evidence about what happened to you personally?

6. Do you have any medical or psychological problems? In particular, have you been tortured or mistreated in your home country? If you have, you need to say as soon as possible and show any evidence (proof).

7. Be prepared to answer questions about small and strange details, for example, about your brothers and sisters, where you grew up or the type of school you went to. The reason they may ask these questions is to find out if you are lying.

We recommend that you get legal advice during the asylum process. You can get legal advice for free –  start by asking one of the organisations in the Contacts list in this section and they may be able to find you a lawyer.

What will happen while the government decides your asylum claim

The Home Office can take many months to make a decision about your asylum claim. During this time, you will normally get a place to live and a small amount of money. But to get this help, you need to show that you do not have money or place to live already.

If the government thinks it can decide your case quickly (because, for example, they think you are lying or that your life is not in danger) you will be put through a faster system called Detained Fast Track. This means that you will be sent to a detention centre while the Home Office deals with your asylum claim, and you will either have just 2 days to appeal or no right to appeal against your decision in the UK.

How long you can stay in the UK

Unfortunately, the government does not give any refugees the right to live in the UK permanently at the beginning. If the government thinks you are a refugee, you will be given 5 years to stay in the UK, and then you can ask to make it permanent. For some people who have been refused asylum but who have been allowed to stay here for other reasons, for example, if they are under the age of 18, they will be allowed to stay for up to three years. However, it is possible to ask to extend this after this time and then eventually ask to stay permanently.

If you decide NOT to claim asylum:

Many people are in the UK illegally because they have not told the government they are living in the country.  If you decide to do this and the police catch you, you may be held in a detention centre and deported. If you work and the government finds out about it, you may also be sent back to your country.

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