Frequently Asked Questions
Who are refugees?
A refugee as someone 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” has fled their own country or (if they have no nationality) country of usual residence, and is unable or unwilling to return to it or seek protection from it.
The 1951 UN Refugee Convention (also known as the Geneva Convention) defines what a refugee is, what rights a refugee has, and the responsibilities of states towards refugees.
Being recognised as a refugee gives you the right to not be returned to the country you have fled, as well as a minimum standard of rights and freedoms in a safe country.
Who are asylum seekers?
An asylum seeker is someone who is in need and search of refuge. The right to seek asylum from persecution in other countries is a universal human right, set out in Article 14 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
Practically speaking, an asylum seeker is someone who has applied for refugee status (or another form of international protection) in another country, and is awaiting a decision on that application. They can only apply once they physically reach the country.
Why don’t people stay and fight?
In Britain, we tend to think of every war as a two-sided battle between good and evil, with an established system on the side of good which is able to organise and direct an army.
As a nation, we have no easy frame of reference for the wars happening today. Wars with many factions. Wars where the government is fighting the people. Or Civil Wars where the enemy is present not just in the air, but on the ground too.
Contrary to popular belief, Britain DID produce a flood of refugees during World War II. 3.5 million British refugees fled their homes, but because the war was an international war, with no successful invasion, no enemy boots on the ground and aerial bombardment focused on cities, the vast majority of those refugees went to the British countryside. Had the Germans invaded and started killing Britons on the ground, it's likely we would have seen an even greater exodus to countries like Australia and Canada than the one we did see. Not because fleeing from genocide is cowardly, but because self preservation is deeply ingrained in human nature.
Risking your life by crossing a treacherous sea to escape a war that is not of your doing is infinitely more heroic than selling out your principles to fight for a mad dictator or a death cult. And, unless you've ever fled a tangled civil war yourself, it might be wise to put a little less effort into judgement and a little more into understanding.
[Extract from a piece written by Emlyn Pearce]
Do refugees have to stay in the first safe country they reach?
No. The UN Refugee Convention does not make this requirement of refugees, and UK case law supports this interpretation. Refugees can legitimately make a claim for asylum in the UK after passing through other “safe” countries.
That said, refugees who arrive in the UK after passing through another EU country can, under certain circumstances, be returned to the first EU country they entered, under an EU law known as the Dublin Regulation.
Click for further reading from FullFact.org.
Are the people crossing the English Channel, from France to England in small boats, legitimate refugees?
We cannot know whether the people trying to cross the channel in recent months would be recognised as refugees. This is to be determined by immigration officials in whichever country reviews their asylum applications.
Why might someone need refuge from France?
Although France is generally considered a “safe” potential country for asylum seekers, there is legal precedent to suggest France could be considered a risk to an asylum seeker if the authorities fail to offer them the treatment they are entitled to. There is previous evidence of asylum seekers and migrants in France not being treated as they should be according to French law.
It also cannot be stated with certainty that these individuals crossing the Channel were safe in France, unless we know more about their backgrounds. The European Court of Human Rights has previously found an EU country (Greece) to pose a risk to an Afghan refugee, therefore upholding the refugee’s right to seek asylum elsewhere (Belgium).