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Who counts as a refugee?
Who counts as a refugee?

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3 Social policy and citizenship

Immigration law and policy do not traditionally appear under the heading of ‘social policy’. We argue here for a broader definition that includes these, since the laws, policies and procedures concerned with the rights of people to enter the UK and to claim refuge can have a profound effect on personal lives, as our personal stories have already shown.

Immigration and asylum is a rapidly changing area of social policy. Four major pieces of legislation were enacted between 1993 and 2002. Asylum seekers have been controlled and monitored as much through the guidance and rules issued to relevant agencies and bureaucrats who implement the legislation as through primary legislation. Table 1 lists some of the important developments since the beginning of the twentieth century. We shall not explore these in detail – this is a resource to refer to throughout the course.

Table 1: Some developments in immigration and asylum legistation, 1905–2003
1905 Aliens Act
Targeted ‘undesirable aliens’; asylum seekers exempted
1914 and 1919 Aliens Restriction Act and Aliens Act
Controlled the activities of aliens
1920 and 1925 Aliens Orders
Included removal and restriction of entry of black seamen
1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Includes the right to seek and enjoy asylum in other countries
1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
A refugee is someone who:
– has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion
– is outside the country they belong to or normally reside in
– is unable or unwilling to return home for fear of persecution
Limited to those who became refugees as a result of events occurring before 1951, and, by many states, to events in Europe
1962 Commonwealth Immigration Act
Introduced work voucher scheme for Commonwealth immigrants
1967 UN Protocol
Extended the 1951 UN Refugee Convention to cover any person, anywhere in the world at any time
1971 Immigration Act
Gave immigration officers powers to detain asylum applicants
1987 Carriers’ Liability Act
Introduced fines on airlines and shipping companies for carrying undocumented passengers
1990 Dublin Convention
European Union (EU) countries given the option to remove applicants who have travelled via another ‘safe’ EU country back to that country
1993 Immigration and Asylum Appeals Act
First piece of legislation introduced into British law targeted at asylum seekers:
– fingerprinting introduced
– practice of returning asylum seekers to ‘safe’ third country
– rights to social housing reduced
– 48-hour limit on appeal after a negative decision
– carrier's liability extended
1996 Asylum and Immigration Act
– benefit entitlement withdrawn from ‘in-country’ asylum applicants (successfully challenged in the courts)
– internal ‘policing’ – fines for employers taking on anyone without appropriate documentation
– complete differentiation between ‘asylum seekers’, refugees and those with ‘exceptional leave to remain’ in relation to housing and housing benefits
– local authorities had statutory duty to provide for destitute single asylum seekers under 1948 National Assistance Act; families supported under 1989 Children Act
1999 Immigration and Asylum Act
– asylum seekers removed from mainstream welfare benefits system; entitled to £10 cash and vouchers redeemable at specific supermarkets – worth in total 70 per cent of basic income support – if they can prove they have no other means of support
– National Asylum Support Service (NASS) now responsible for their welfare
– introduction of pre-entry controls – Airline Liaison Officers at airports in ‘asylum producing countries’ [sic] introduced or reinforced
– carrier's liability extended to include trucking companies
– NASS provides accommodation for anyone recognized as destitute
– dispersal policy: accommodation only offered outside London and the south-east; no choice over destination
– no welfare provision for those granted refugee status
2002 Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act
– replacement of vouchers by a cash voucher system
– end to the presumption that all destitute asylum seekers should receive support from NASS; eligibility restricted to those who have applied for asylum ‘as soon as reasonably practicable’ after arrival in the UK
– power to remove subsistence-only support option
– applications from ‘white list’ of ‘safe countries’ assumed to be ‘clearly unfounded’, with no right of appeal; Home Secretary can add more countries as he or she sees fit
– asylum seekers no longer able to work or undertake vocational training, until given a positive decision, however long that takes
– greater powers to tackle illegal working
– development of accommodation centres with full board and education for children
Citizenship and nationality:
– requirement to pass English language test (older people and disabled people exempt)
– citizenship ceremony involving an oath of allegiance
– power to remove British nationality if a British citizen has done anything ‘seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK’
– the right for children to be registered as British citizens
2003Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc.) Bill
Seen by the Home Secretary as the third phase of reforms to the asylum and immigration system, following the 1999 and 2002 Acts. Received its Second Reading in the House of Lords on 15 March 2004. Proposals include:
– penalties for arriving in the UK without documentation
– withdrawal of support from families who have unsuccessfully reached the end of the asylum process
– restricting asylum seekers’ access to asylum appeals
– increasing the Home Secretary's powers to remove asylum seekers to a ‘safe third country’ without fully considering their asylum application
(Source: based on Teichmann, 2002; Lewis, 2003; Border and Immigration Agency website: (accessed on 29 February 2008); Refugee Council website: (accessed on 29 February 2008); Chapter I, Citizenship:Personal Lives and Social Policy (2004) ed. Lewis, G.)