About asylum

What is asylum?

‘Asylum’ means ‘safety’ or ‘protection’.

A refugee is 'a person who leaves their country to seek asylum - i.e. protection - from persecution'. There are many forms of persecution, including torture, ‘honour’ killing, FGM, inhuman conditions of detention, harsh penalties for practising one’s religion, repeated arrest for political reasons, and so on.

A person who seeks asylum in the UK has to apply to the Home Office for recognition that they are a refugee - i.e. that they are at real risk of persecution in their home country.

Once they get recognition, they get five years’ permission to live in the UK, the right to work, and access to housing and benefits on a similar basis to a British citizen.

About people who have been refused asylum status

About half of the people who apply for asylum in the UK do not get recognition as a refugee. This can be for many reasons. The asylum process is difficult. Many people seeking asylum do not know what to expect and do not have the right support as they go through the process. Many of those who come to ASSIST have never had legal advice or have received poor advice. As a result, genuine refugees end up being refused asylum.

No human being is illegal. Everyone has the right to request asylum under international law.

How are people seeking asylum made destitute?

People seeking asylum aren’t allowed to work. While a claim is ongoing, they receive accommodation and minimal cash support under Section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act (1999).

Once someone has exhausted all appeal rights, and is finally refused, they lose their accommodation and cash support within 21 days (the only exception to that is if the Home Office recognise that there is a temporary barrier preventing them from leaving the country or if they have children).

They are not entitled to benefits from the Department of Work and Pensions and they become destitute.

A person is treated as destitute if:

  • they do not have adequate accommodation or any means of obtaining it (whether or not their essential living needs are met) or
  • they have adequate accommodation or the means of obtaining it, but cannot meet their essential living needs now or within 14 days (Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 s.95)

This is where ASSIST comes in. We support people who are seeking asylum and who have been made destitute by a system which fails to protect them at a time of extreme vulnerability.


Some names and photos in the following stories have been changed to protect anonymity



People we support tell their stories

X is 50 years old and has been living in the UK for nearly 18 years and has been receiving help from ASSIST...

The people at ASSIST offered me so much support when I needed it most.

When my asylum claim appeal was rejected it was a worrying time...

I arrived in the UK in 2008. Two years after I first applied for asylum I got an initial refusal...I was destitute.

X is 50 years old and has been living in the UK for nearly 18 years and has been receiving help from ASSIST...

In this country, it’s so cold in the winter that you can die when you’re living in the streets and without food you get desperate.

When I was refused asylum by the Home Office I became destitute. I found ASSIST and I was able to use the night shelter.

Before I found ASSIST I had nothing. Now my health problems are being sorted out and my legal situation is moving on.

I felt rejected, alone and in despair until I found ASSIST. They provided a roof over my head, support and hope for the future.