Britain Is Europe’s Top Asylum Destination: Figures

Britain is Europe's top asylum destination: figures

May 21, 2008

LONDON (AFP) Britain is Europe's most popular destination for asylum seekers, official figures out Tuesday showed, as a report found that the term had developed negative connotations among native Britons.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics and the Home Office showed that Britain received 7,700 asylum applications (including dependants) this year — 300 more than France, the second most popular destination in Europe.

Asylum and immigration has long been a hot topic in Britain, with critics accusing the government of lax border controls and presiding over an immigration surge that has brought little benefit to those already here.

There was a 16 percent rise in asylum applications in the first three months of 2008, to 6,595 (excluding dependants), compared with the same period last year.

There was also a 13 percent drop to 2,805 in the number of failed asylum seekers deported from January to March.

Immigration minister Liam Byrne insisted the figures showed “our shake-up of border security is delivering results” but Damian Green, his shadow for the main opposition Conservatives, labelled them “extraordinary”.

“This undermines the government's pledge to remove more failed asylum seekers than arrive, let alone make inroads into the massive backlog,” Green added.

Meanwhile, widespread negative press coverage of those seeking asylum in Britain has contributed to the negative perceptions of them, said a report by the Independent Asylum Commission.

Its research found that only 28 percent of the 1,000 people questioned viewed “asylum” in a good light, while 33 percent saw it as negative and 31 percent thought it was linked with mental illness.

Instead of “asylum seeker” — a term adopted in 1981 to replace “aliens seeking asylum” — they said the word “sanctuary” should be used after 81 percent of respondents thought it had positive overtones.

The commission's co-chairman John Waite said it found Britons overwhelmingly supported providing sanctuary to those who need it but there was a “profound disconnection” between that and the perception of asylum seekers.

Figures also showed the number of people granted British citizenship reached record levels last year.

Some 164,635 foreign nationals became British, up seven percent on 2006.

The number outstripped the previous record of 161,700 set in 2005, when there was a rush to beat new tests on “Britishness” and the ability to speak English.

Nationalities with the largest numbers of citizenship applications granted were Indian with 14,490, Filipino (10,840), Afghan (10,555), South African (8,150) and Pakistani (8,140).

Overall, 31 percent of those becoming British had previously held an African nationality and people from Asia accounted for 22 percent.

Afghans were the fastest-growing group, with numbers up 211 percent on 2006.

Foreign workers now make up 12.5 percent of the workforce: 3.7 million were born outside Britain compared with 1.9 million in 1997, the year the Labour Party took office.

Meanwhile, about 845,000 eastern Europeans whose countries joined the European Union in 2004 have applied to work in Britain.

Applications from those countries has slowed, with about 45,000 people seeking to work in Britain in the first three months of this year, compared with 52,000 in the same period last year.