UK Government must keep borders open to refugees


Attn: News Desks

For immediate release 18 February 2009





By imposing ever stricter border controls, the UK Government is undermining its obligation - enshrined in the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees - to protect people seeking asylum, Scottish Refugee Council says.


Recently, the number of refugees worldwide rose for the first time in many years to 14 million, while the number of asylum applications to the UK has fallen by almost three quarters since 1999.


This drop has coincided with the introduction of increased controls by the UK Government, such as enhanced visa requirements for people travelling from refugee-producing countries, the posting of UK immigration officers abroad to prevent people from reaching our shores, new technologies to detect migrants in transit, and the fining of airlines who carry people without the necessary travel documentation.


Crucially, none of these controls distinguish between people fleeing danger and other migrants trying to come to the UK.


John Wilkes, chief executive, Scottish Refugee Council, says:


“The relentless tightening of border controls is limiting the fundamental right to claim asylum.


People who are fleeing war, torture and other persecution are being forced into irregular means of travel, placing themselves in the hands of unscrupulous smugglers or traffickers and risking their lives to reach safety. Many are suffering horrific violence and human rights abuses along the way. Many are dying.


The UK must ensure that its border controls and immigration requirements have doors for refugees. We cannot turn our backs on people whose lives are in danger.”


This situation in the UK is reflected EU-wide, where increased border controls have coincided with asylum applications falling to a 20-year low.




Notes for Editors:

  • The UK government has developed a network of 55 staff which operates in 32 countries to prevent inadequately documented people – including those seeking asylum - from travelling to the UK. For more information on enhanced UK border controls, visit
  • The EU has a list of 128 countries whose nationals are subject to visa obligations for entry into its territory, including war-torn and refugee producing countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Palestine.
  • According to the European Councils for Refugees and Exiles [ECRE], the number of people who have died trying to cross the Mediterranean from Africa between January and July 2006 range from 3,000-25,000.
  • The UK hosts only 2 percent of the world’s refugee population. The majority of the world’s refugees are taken care of by the poorest countries, such as Iran and Pakistan. There are currently 2 million Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan.
  • For the latest UK asylum statistics, visit
  • For interviews and more information, contact Aideen McLaughlin on 0141 223 7927/07734 030 763