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, e.g. 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 seekers 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.

An asylum seeker may have their application for asylum refused, 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 5 years. They will be 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.

What is interim accommodation?

Halton Borough Council, as the local planning authority, received a planning application for change of use of Lilycross Care Centre, Wilmere Lane, Widnes, from a care home to interim accommodation for asylum seekers.

  • It is temporary accommodation for asylum seekers (NOT Syrian refugees – this is part of a separate government sponsored programme)
  • It is run by SERCO on behalf of the Home Office, NOT by councils
  • It is funded by Government not the council
  • Maintenance is a matter for the owner and SERCO
  • Placements are organised by SERCO on behalf of the Home Office
  • Asylum seekers are accommodated there for about 2-4 weeks while their application for asylum is processes
  • It can accommodate up to 120 asylum seekers at any given time, all ages, families and single people
  • It is not a long-stay facility so clientele will be constantly changing
  • It is not be a secure facility but adequately resourced with support staff
  • Food and health requirements are provided on site and funded by Government
  • Buses are provided to move asylum seekers around (eg access to immigration appointments)
    At the end of their period in interim accommodation, asylum seekers leave, either to return home or be placed in other accommodation elsewhere in the UK.

These Asylum seekers are not allowed to access:

  • The local health system (other than in emergencies)
  • Local schools/colleges
  • Local employment
  • Benefits.

Should the current planning application be successful, SERCO will operate the facility. SERCO has produced the attached document about the proposed facility. 

What is the Syrian Resettlement Programme (SRP)?

Significant numbers of refugee and migrant arrivals from late summer 2015, particularly from Syria but from other countries too, overwhelmed European countries. The scale and pace, alongside human stories of both tragedy and resilience, dominated news headlines. The EU as a whole agreed a broad range of strategic responses including: the development of ‘hotspots’, plans to internally relocate migrants away from Italy and Greece, and an EU-wide resettlement scheme.

In the UK, the Prime Minister announced in early September 2015 an expansion of the existing Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation (VPR) scheme. The Syrian Resettlement Programme (SRP) is the name of this expanded scheme.

The Prime Minister declared that the UK would resettle up to 20 000 refugees to the UK during the current Parliament i.e. over five years from 2015-2020. The scheme focuses on those outside of Europe in the Middle East / North Africa (MENA) region; in practice this means the Syrian border region where there are large numbers of refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

Government was clear that the Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) ‘will be working with local authorities … to put in place the arrangements to house and support the refugees’ funded in the first year through the foreign aid budget. A new minister, Richard Harrington, was appointed to coordinate resettlement of Syrians to the UK. Resettlement is a formal process of moving refugees from one host country to another where they can settle permanently.

Liverpool City Council and Halton have been liaising with the NW Regional Strategic Migration Partnership and Liverpool City Region partners to understand what the resource and political/community implications will be for engaging in the programme.

The Liverpool City Region group (compromising Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, Sefton, St Helens and Wirral) has agreed to take a collaborative approach and accept a total of 510 refugees over the next 4 years.  For Halton Council, the individual commitment is 100 refugees.

Syrian Refugees have Humanitarian Protection for 5 years.

For further information please see our FAQ section