• Sarah

Thoughts on words and terms used about asylum seekers and refugees - a glossary of terms

There are so many terms that are being used to describe asylum seekers and refugees and their status within the UK. We all know that language is political and in its use we have a large amount of power. This post acts as a glossary of terms so that we can all see the power of language and ensure that we are using the correct terminology for discussing asylum seekers and help others in their understanding asylum seekers and immigration in the world.

Descriptive terms

Asylum Seeker - the term used to describe a person who has left their country of origin and is applying to seek asylum in another country. There are a variety of reasons to claim asylum and every individual country has their own process of assessing if a person is in need of protection. Claiming asylum is a legal right and everyone has the right to claim asylum in another country.


Refugee - The 1951 Refugee Convention provides the legal definition of a refugee as "someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.”


Within the United Kingdom, the Home Office acting as a government department assess and decide upon whether someone is considered to be a refugee. If recognised, the person will be issued with documentation to confirm their refugee status, and also be a time limited period in which they can stay in the UK (often referred to as leave to remain), if they wish to stay over this time period they must apply for an extension of this leave and to settle within the UK.


Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Child (aka UASC) - A child (someone under the age of 18) who is seeking asylum in their own right and is not being cared for by a parent or someone who by law or custom has the responsibility to do so. Therefore, it is important to remember that not all children who are seeking asylum are UASC. However, all UASC should be supported by the Local Authority as Looked After Children until they are 18 years of age and should be allocated a Social Worker.


Refused Asylum Seeker - As you would expect from the description, this person has submitted their asylum claim and this has been refused. However, as discussed below, this does not necessarily mean that they have to leave the United Kingdom. They may be accessing the appeals process (which is a legal right) or submitting a fresh claim for asylum. If a person is appealing their decision, it is my belief that we should not be using the term refused to describe their status, as they are still within the asylum process. If someone is submitting a fresh claim, then I feel they should not longer be considered as a refused asylum seeker but rather an asylum seeker as they have an active claim in which has not been refused.

Migrant - There is no universal definition of who a migrant is and it is really an umbrella term to cover a range of people. However, traditionally this term was used to describe a person who has moved by choice to an alternative location rather than due to war or threat of persecution for example. However, recently it has become a 'catch all' term to describe anyone who has left their country of origin, regardless of the reason or motive. The risk in using the term migrant to describe asylum seekers is it removes the legal protection afforded by language and definition for asylum seekers and refugees.


Economic migrant - A migrant as defined above, however, their purpose for moving to an alternative country has been for the purpose of economics i.e. financial or employment.


Undocumented migrant - Another catch all term to describe a person who does not have 'status' within the United Kingdom. This may be because they entered the country illegally, never came to the attention of authorities and never claimed asylum but it can also mean a person who has entered the UK legally but their status within the country has expired, for example, a person who entered on a student visa which has expired. Someone seeking asylum is not undocumented by the simple process of engaging with the asylum process. If their application is refused and no further action is taken then they may be considered as undocumented, however, there are words better equipped to describe their situation.


Illegal Immigrant - Like the term illegal immigrant is a catch all term to refer to anyone who is residing within the United Kingdom without the legal status to do so. As identified above, there are a variety reasons for someone not having legal status within the UK.


Expat - Now this is a little bit of a tongue in cheek definition as I think we all understand what it means to be an ex-pat. However, this term actually means is an individual who lives outside their normal country of origin. Now given this definition it begs the question as to whats the difference between expat and a migrant and really there is not one aside from choice of language and semantics. Actually the choice of which term used is based upon class, wealth, privilege, education and dare I say it country or origin, race and ethnicity rather than any other deciding factor such as reason for being in the other country.


Status within the UK

Refugee status - As identified above, a person is provided with refugee status if the Home Office as a government department has agreed that their claim has met the criteria outlined within the 1951 Refugee Convention. Currently this means the person is awarded 5 years status within the UK and then they can reapply for Indefinite Leave to Remain and then citizenship. (if they wish to).


Humanitarian Protection - if a person is not deemed to have met the criteria for refugee status or doe


s not meet the criteria they may be granted humanitarian protection on the basis that they have shown they are at risk of suffering serious harm if they are returned to their country of origin. This also usually provides them 5 years status and following this they can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain and then citizenship (if they wish).



Indefinite Leave To Remain - Status within the UK which allows the person to live for an unlimited time with no need to reapply for extensions. This status can lapse in certain situations such as if the person leaves the UK for a period of two years or more. If the person commits a serious crime and is deported this indefinite leave to remain can be removed.


UASC Leave - Specific to UASC the Home Office may issue UASC Leave to provide them with status in the UK until they are 17.5 years of age. This is a refusal of their asylum claim, however, due to inadequate reception arrangements in their country of origin meaning that they are unable to be returned back.


Refusal of asylum claim - As you would guess this means that a person's application for asylum has been refused. Upon refusal there becomes a complicated system in which a person may be able to get this overturned. They may be entitled to appeal this decision, which can obviously have two outcomes - positive or negative. If they are unable to appeal, their solicitor may consider whether a judicial review and if so this may provide them with a chance to appeal. Upon appeal if there is a negative decision from this, there may be other courts in which their case can be escalated to, and again there are the two outcomes of yes or no. If this provides a negative outcome, the likelihood is that the person will become appeals rights exhausted (ARE), meaning as you can guess they have no more right to appeal and they may be subject to detention or removal unless a fresh claim is submitted.


No Recourse To Public Funds - There are several reasons in which a person can be considered as no recourse to public funds including the majority of those who enter on a student visa. If an individual becomes appeals right exhausted or is undocumented within the UK they nearly always are not entitled to access public funds. This includes the benefit system and can include support from social services, although a human rights assessment must be completed to decide this.


I hope you have found this post useful and it has allowed you to see how powerful language has been in the reports both in the media and within publications concerning asylum seekers and refugees. Just with a simple word choice it can change our perception from one of support to one of hostility.


This is one of the significant issues affecting individuals and community in the world - we see it all the time, whether we are talking about asylum seekers, the homeless of the Black Lives Matter and we have the power if we understand to make changes to the narrative around us. If you enjoyed this post head on over to my discussion surrounding the myths and rumours associated with asylum seekers to learn more.


If there is a term you are hearing that you want explaining or there is one you think I have missed, drop me a message or send me a DM on Instagram and I will add it to the list - this can be an evolving glossary. Please share the post to your community so we can increase the education of those around us!

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