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This report describes the law and policy on refugees and other asylum seekers in 22 geographically dispersed countries and, at the supranational level, in the European Union. The individual surveys cover such topics as participation in relevant international conventions; laws and regulations governing the admission of refugees and handling refugee claims; processes for handling refugees arriving at the border;  procedures for evaluating whether an applicant is entitled to refugee status; the accommodations and assistance provided to refugees in the jurisdiction; requirements for naturalization; and whether asylum policy has been affected by international emergencies, such as the current refugee crisis in Europe.

A comparative summary and bibliography are included.


Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Programme consists of several different visas that are available to refugees and others in need of protection. The total number of places available under the program each year is currently 13,750, although 12,000 additional places have been made available in response to the refugee crisis that has emerged from conflicts in Iraq and Syria. The majority of visas are designated for offshore applicants, most of whom are assessed as refugees by the UNHCR and referred to Australia for resettlement. Visas available to offshore applicants provide permanent residence status and access to a range of services and assistance. Holders can sponsor family members for visas and can also apply to become Australian citizens under the same rules as other permanent residents.

There has been much debate and many law and policy changes over the years regarding the approach to handling asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat without a valid visa. The current rules mean that anyone who arrives unlawfully after January 1, 2014, will be taken to a third country for processing and resettlement; they will not be able to apply for visas in Australia. Boats that enter Australian territory may be returned to international waters. Around 30,500 asylum seekers who arrived in Australia prior to January 1, 2014, are being invited, in stages, to apply for temporary protection/safe haven visas that are valid for three or five years. Visa holders cannot sponsor family members and only those who meet criteria relating to living and working in regional Australia will have a pathway to permanent residence. A permanent protection visa is available to people who seek asylum after arriving in Australia on a valid visa.

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In Brazil, a constitutional principle provides for the granting of asylum to aliens, while a federal law regulates immigration issues in general, including asylum. A national council subordinate to the Ministry of Labor, which is in charge of coordinating immigration activities in the country, has issued regulations establishing the requirements for obtaining refugee or asylum status.

A federal law from 1997 defined the mechanisms for implementing the Refugee Status Act of 1951 in the country and created a national committee under the Ministry of Justice to deal with the refugee matters. Under this authority, the committee issued a normative resolution detailing the procedures for the request and processing of refugee applications.

Permanent residency and citizenship are available to holders of asylum and refugee status, provided that certain requirements are met. However, Brazilian legislation does not provide any specific provision for the integration of immigrants into the society. State and local authorities play no role in immigration matters, and the enforcement of immigration laws falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Federal Police.

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Canada’s refugee system is regulated mainly by the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and consists of the Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program, for refugees seeking protection from outside of Canada, and the In-Canada Asylum Program for person who make their claims from inside the country. Most quotas or allocations of refugees are supported by the Government Assisted Refugee program where either the Government of Canada or Province of Quebec provide the initial support and assistance to refugees being resettled in Canada. In addition, Canada allows private organizations or persons to identify and sponsor individuals who meet the admissibility and eligibility requirements under Canadian law. Canada works closely with the UNHCR along with private sponsors to identify refugees for resettlement.

According to the Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement, which came into effect on December 29, 2004, unless certain exceptions apply, a person is ineligible to make a refugee claim at the Canada-United States border because the US is considered a “Safe Third Country.”
Canada describes the refugee screening process or procedure as “thorough,” rigorous, and multi-staged. It includes requirements for criminal, security, and medical screening.

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China acceded to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol in September 1982. Despite its accession to the treaties, the domestic law on refugees and asylum is still under development. Currently, the only relevant legal provisions are article 32 of the Constitution and article 46 of the Exit and Entry Law. The former provides the general principle on asylum, declaring that the country may grant asylum to foreigners who request it for political reasons. The latter provides that refugees and asylum seekers in China may obtain ID cards. A comprehensive refugee law that would cover a wide range of issues relating to refugees and asylum is under consideration.

The UNHCR Beijing Office conducts refugee registration and refugee status determinations in China. Recognized refugees are permitted to remain temporarily in China while the UNHCR is seeking a durable solution, which most of the time involves resettlement in a third country. Non-Indochinese refugees are generally treated as aliens who have no right to employment. They are supported by the UNHCR in terms of food, accommodation, health care, and children’s education.

In addition to article 46 specifically on refugees, refugees and asylum seekers in China are subject to other provisions of the Exit and Entry Law governing foreigners and stateless persons, as well as other relevant Chinese laws. For example, foreigners who are sixteen years old or older must carry their documentation for examination by public security organs. Foreigners must also submit their residence permits to the local public security organs wherever they reside. Hotels must report information concerning foreign guests to the local public security organs.

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Denmark is a signatory to the Refugee Convention and grants asylum for refugees and persons seeking subsidiary protection. Refugees are received both through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees relocation program (quota refugees) and through application from persons arriving at the border. Applicants are vetted by the Danish Immigration Service and by the police. The Danish government has made a number of changes to its asylum laws and policies following the asylum crisis of 2015.Changes include reducing the amount of monetary assistance to asylum seekers, delaying family reunification, and proposing confiscation of assets to pay for the housing and support of the asylum seeker.

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Egypt acceded to the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees in May 1981.According to a report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). However, the Egyptian government has no comprehensive legal instrument to deal with refugees—various fragmentary domestic legislative initiatives regulate their legal status.

Egypt hosts approximately 228,200 refugees. Individuals who want to obtain refugee status must be interviewed by a UNHCR representative. Refugees who pass the Refugee Status Determination Interview are provided with a UNHCR refugee yellow card. Social benefits are provided to the refugees by the UNHCR office in Egypt.

Refugees may be subject to security restrictions imposed by the Egyptian authorities and may also face arrest and detention. Many refugees have reported a lack of police protection and even police harassment. There is a high unemployment rate among refugees. Refugees who decide to leave Egypt irregularly also risk being targeted and attacked by human traffickers.

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European Union:

During the period of 2011–2014, the European Union (EU) reformed its legislation on asylum in order to achieve its overarching objective to establish a Common European Asylum System (CEAS). The refugee crisis has impeded further development of the CEAS. The Schengen system of passport-free travel throughout Europe is on the verge of collapse because of temporary border controls reinstated by a number of EU Members States. The Member States, especially countries of first entry like Greece and Italy, have faced extraordinary pressure in this crisis, severely testing their asylum systems.

The migrants who enter the EU are a mixed group composed of asylum seekers and economic migrants. Under CEAS, international protection is granted to those migrants who qualify as refugees due to a well-founded fear of persecution. Subsidiary protection status is granted to those who would face a real risk of suffering serious harm if returned to his/her country of origin. Member States are required to return illegal economic migrants to their country of origin; however, implementation of returns is difficult due to a lack of travel documents, a lack of detention facilities, and other factors.

At the core of CEAS is the right to asylum and the prohibition of refoulement, as guaranteed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. Both instruments bind EU Members, who must also comply with the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The ECHR has held against several Member States for violating the EU’s legal regime on refugees on issues of detention, status of reception facilities, and lack of legal remedies. Greece, in particular, was found by the ECHR to have “serious deficiencies” in its asylum system and Member States are prohibited from sending refugees back to Greece, as the first country of entry, in compliance with the Dublin Regulation. The Dublin system has been identified as the key structural problem of CEAS because it places an undue burden on countries of first entry.

The CEAS is composed of a number of directives and regulations that require action by the EU Member States or are directly applicable within their national legal systems. The European Commission follows closely the full and correct implementation of CEAS and has adopted many decisions related to the application of asylum rules.

During 2015, the EU sought to ensure a coordinated European response to the refugee crisis. Various EU agencies provided assistance, financing, training, and experts to the Member States to implement CEAS. The Commission also allocated over €10 billion to address the refugee crisis and assist Member States, particularly those most impacted. To ensure better security of its external borders, the EU proposed the creation of a European Border and Coast Guard with new powers and shared responsibility for the EU borders with Member States. In November 2015, the Commission signed an Action Plan with Turkey designed to reduce the migration flow entering EU through Greece.

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Finland accepts “quota refugees” through a relocation program administered by the UNHCR as well as asylum applications from individuals arriving at its borders. Persons who seek asylum status receive cash benefits, schooling, and health care provided by the government. Persons who are granted asylum receive social services from the local municipality where they live.

An asylum seeker can gain Finnish citizenship after four years as a continuous resident followed by five years as a permanent resident of Finland. Before attaining continuous residency an asylum seeker receives temporary residency of varying duration.

By the fall of 2015 the number of asylum seekers in Finland had increased nearly tenfold from 2014 levels, from 3,600 for all of 2014 to over 30,000 between January and November of 2015. Because the largest increase was seen among Iraqi citizens, the Finnish government was prompted to negotiate a repatriation agreement with Iraq.

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France has a long tradition of offering asylum to foreign refugees, and the right of asylum has constitutional value under French law. French asylum law is heavily based on international and European law, but is largely codified in the Code de l’entrée et du séjour des étrangers et du droit d’asile (CESEDA, Code of Entry and Residence of Foreigners and of the Right of Asylum).

There are two types of asylum protection in France: refugee protection and subsidiary protection. Asylum essentially rests on the serious possibility that the asylum seeker could be the victim of persecution or harm in his/her country of origin. Asylum may be denied or revoked for individuals who have committed crimes or whose presence would be a threat to society or national security.

Refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection have the right to live and work in France, and to bring their spouse and children. Those granted refugee status can apply to be naturalized as French citizens immediately. Refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection have the right to obtain travel documents from the French government. Refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection are required to attend some civic training programs and, if necessary, language classes. Refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection have similar rights to social benefits as French citizens do, but only have access to certain special aid programs during the time that their application for asylum is being processed.

An applicant for asylum must be either on French territory or at a French border crossing point to request asylum. Before coming, however, an asylum seeker may request a special visa for the purpose of asylum from a French embassy or consulate. A person with such a visa must follow the same procedure as other asylum seekers once in France, but is authorized to work while his/her application for asylum is being processed and evaluated, contrary to other applicants. Asylum seekers who request asylum at a border crossing point are kept in a “waiting zone” for a few days while the Ministry of the Interior decides whether they should be allowed inside the country or not. Once in France, asylum seekers must register at a local prefecture as the first step of the asylum application process. The prefecture’s services verify whether France would be responsible for protecting the asylum seeker under European Union rules and, if it finds that it would, provides the applicant with an asylum application form and with information on the application process, the applicant’s rights and obligations, assistance that he/she is entitled to, and any local organizations that help asylum seekers. The asylum seeker is then supposed to send his/her application form to the Office français de protection des réfugiés et apatrides (OFPRA, French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons), which determines who is eligible for refugee status or subsidiary protection. The OFPRA must reach a decision within six months, though time extensions are possible in certain situations. The OFPRA evaluates all relevant evidence, and usually conducts an interview of the applicant as part of its investigation. The OFPRA’s decisions may be appealed to the Cour nationale du droit d’asile (National Court for Asylum Law).

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The right to asylum is a constitutional right in Germany and granted to everyone who flees political persecution. An asylum seeker is allowed to stay in Germany if he or she is granted political asylum, refugee status, or subsidiary protection, or if the agency declares a deportation prohibition. The Asylum Act and the Residence Act are the two most important immigration laws in Germany that provide rules for the admission and handling of refugee claims. There have been several amendments to these and other laws due to the current refugee crisis.

In order to determine whether a person is entitled to refugee status, an in-person interview is conducted and country-specific resources and experts consulted. Every applicant over the age of fourteen must submit to measures establishing his or her identity and provide fingerprints, which are cross-checked with national and European databases and the Visa Information System. Refugees are generally housed in reception facilities, which provide them with essential items like food, housing, heat, clothing, health care, and household items in kind or in the form of vouchers, whereas persons who are housed outside of reception facilities primarily receive cash allowances to purchase essential items.

While an asylum application is pending, applicants are not allowed to leave the area of the reception facility without permission. If a refugee has no independent means of subsistence, a residence permit may also be restricted territorially. A refugee can obtain citizenship after six years of legal residence, rather than eight, and naturalization of refugees has also been deemed presumptively in the public interest for purposes of discretionary naturalization.

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Greece’s legal system on asylum is based on the Geneva Convention of 1951 and its 1967 Protocol, and on European Union (EU) legislation on the Common European Asylum System. In 2011, the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the EU found that Greece’s asylum system suffers from “systemic deficiencies,” including lack of reception centers, poor detention conditions, and the lack of an effective remedy. Greece adopted two action plans and legislation to address the problems. Significant gaps still remain, as exposed by the extraordinary migrant crisis of 2015 and as noted by the European Commission, which monitors closely Greece’s compliance with EU asylum standards.

Greece has experienced the brunt of migratory flows during the refugee crisis due to its geographical location and as first country of entry pursuant to the Dublin Regulation. The crisis has also jeopardized the functioning of Schengen, a free area of movement and travel, as some EU countries have re-imposed border controls. Other Schengen Member States are considering reintroducing border controls if Greece fails to control the current migratory flow. Two relocation plans to transfer 66,000 refugees from Greece to other EU Member States are slowly being implemented. The European Commission has recommended a number of remedial measures for Greece, including efficient border management and implementation of the “hotspot” areas for the proper registration and fingerprinting of migrants.

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As a Jewish homeland open to the immigration of Jews from all over the world, and a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, Israel has absorbed a large number of Jewish refugees from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. In handling applications for political asylum of non-Jewish applicants, Israel applies international law criteria in accordance with its treaty obligations and claims to abide by the principle of non-refoulement.

Israel has traditionally maintained restrictive immigration policies. This is due to that fact that it borders states and populations that are hostile, is affected by geopolitically volatile conditions in the Middle East and Africa, respects civil liberties, and enjoys a significantly higher standard of living as compared with other countries in the surrounding region.

While it has generally allowed Eritrean and Sudanese nationals who entered unlawfully and are already in the country to stay, it has not provided them with opportunities to become permanent residents or citizens. In addition, Israel has erected a fence along its border with Egypt to prevent a further influx of African migrants. It is also currently building a fence along the border with Jordan, which is reportedly hosting more than 600,000 Syrian refugees.

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Italy’s legal system provides for a complex framework of assistance to asylum seekers. Italy has adhered to or ratified the most important international treaties providing for the protection of refugees and their families. The Italian police have broad powers to control and reject asylum seekers at the border. Italian legislation has created several government agencies at the national and regional levels to provide assistance to asylum seekers, including the review of their applications, financial and material help, and the monitoring of their activities within the country. Legislation that accords with Italy’s international and European obligations has also established grounds for the rejection of asylum requests. Italian law provides for an abbreviated procedure for the review of asylum requests under certain conditions. Asylum seekers may be granted either refugee status or subsidiary international protection status. Deportation and repatriation proceedings are also regulated in national legislation. Asylum-related administrative decisions are subject to judicial review. Once granted protected status, refugees may avail themselves of all the education, work, health care, housing, and other benefits established by law for Italian citizens. Finally, protective measures are established for unaccompanied minors found in the country.

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Japan has not accepted many refugees in the past. It began accepting refugees in 1978 in order to grant resident status to refugees from Indochina. Japan acceded to the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees on October 3, 1981, and to the 1967 UN Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees on January 1, 1982. In 2010, Japan began accepting refugees for resettlement in Japan in accordance with the UN Convention and Protocol.

When an alien applies for refugee status, he/she is permitted to stay in Japan during the period when his/her application is being examined, if requisite conditions are met. Once an applicant’s refugee status is recognized, he/she may obtain special resident status. Refugees can receive Japanese language classes, social adaptation training, and employment assistance.

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Jordan’s current refugee population is estimated to be 1.1 million, including Syrians, Iraqis, and others. While its Constitution provides protection against extradition for political asylum seekers, Jordan has not enacted domestic legislation to deal with refugees and is not a party to the 1951 Convention on Refugees or its 1967 Protocol. The legal instrument that provides the legal framework for the treatment of refugees is a 1998 Memorandum of Understanding signed between Jordan and the UNHCR.

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Kenya hosts a large asylum-seeking and refugee population, which at present is managed jointly by the country’s Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) under the 2006 Refugees Act and the 2009 Refugees Regulations. Kenya recognizes two classes of refugees: prima facie refugees and statutory refugees. All asylum seekers go through an initial registration. At this point in the process, they are screened for their eligibility to seek asylum and to obtain accelerated processing. This is followed by an interview.

Recent terrorist attacks are said to have prompted Kenya to introduce changes to its refugee policy. One notable change was the introduction of an encampment policy requiring all asylum seekers and refugees in urban areas to relocate to designated camps. Although refugees have been allowed to engage in informal employment in the past, this appears to be getting increasingly difficult as the encampment policy constrains their ability to move about the country. In addition, work permits are rarely issued to refugees. Similarly, while refugees are technically free to apply for naturalization if they meet certain requirements, which on their face are not prohibitive, in practice Kenya does not naturalize refugees.

An asylum seeker is issued an asylum-seeker pass upon applying for refugee status, which is replaced by a refugee identification card after his application is granted. All asylum seekers and refugees are required to live in their designated refugee camps and need a movement pass in order to travel anywhere outside the camp.

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Lebanon is not a party to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951 or its 1967 Protocol. It has not adopted any domestic legislation specifically addressing the status of refugees. Refugee status is at present determined mainly by the provisions of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between Lebanon and the UNHCR.

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Russia is a migrant destination country with a steady flow of labor migrants and refugees. Depending on an individual migrant’s situation or his or her country of origin, a migrant to Russia can be granted a refugee status or may receive temporary asylum. Refuge and temporary asylum policies are developed according to the nation’s Constitution, a set of laws and federal regulations, and international obligations under the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. The Federal Migration Service is the federal government agency with regional offices across the country that is in charge of implementing all migration-related policies, monitoring migration processes, and managing migrant assistance and resettlement programs. Petitioning for refuge and asylum status in Russia is a complicated process, which must be initiated from abroad or at a border crossing. Applicants are subject to multilevel background review procedures. Migrants who receive legal status in Russia are entitled to receive the same social and medical benefits as Russian nationals. They are resettled within the country according to regional quotas defined by the federal government, are limited in selecting places of residence, and have their travels inside Russia monitored by the authorities. Simplified procedures for granting refugee status are foreseen for migrants from Ukraine who were affected by the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian conflict. After residing in Russia for one year, refugees are allowed to apply for naturalization.

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Spain’s Law Regulating the Right of Asylum and Subsidiary Protection provides three types of international protection: conventional asylum for refugees, subsidiary protection, and exceptional protection for humanitarian reasons. Application procedures differ depending on whether the request for international protection was filed within Spain or at the Spanish border. The Ministry of Interior examines the application and must render a decision within a deadline of six months, or three months in some circumstances. The Law provides for the rights and obligations of international protection for applicants and those granted refugee status to include identity cards and travel documents, legal residence and work permits, social services, education, health care assistance, and family reunification. Spain also has a program for resettlement of refugees.

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Sweden accepts both quota refugees through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees relocation system and asylum seekers arriving at the border. In 2015 Sweden received approximately 160,000 applications for asylum, including more than 35,000 from unaccompanied minors. Prior to November 24, 2015, most asylum seekers were granted permanent residence permits, but after that date, asylum seekers arriving at the border have only been given temporary residence permits. Asylum seekers are given free housing, health and dental care, and schooling for children ages pre-kindergarten to twenty. Sweden allows for family reunification but family reunification has become more restrictive as a response to the refugee crisis. Overall, Sweden has revised its asylum policies considerably following the refugee crisis of 2015.

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Swiss asylum legislation is based on the principles contained in the Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The most important norms for admission and handling of refugees are contained in the Asylum Act and the Foreign Nationals Act. People who are recognized as refugees or are awarded temporary protection are granted a temporary residence permit. An asylum application can be submitted at the airport, at the border, or inside Switzerland at a reception and processing center. The applicant’s personal details are recorded, his or her fingerprints and photographs are taken, and the data are compared with national and European databases. The State Secretariat for Migration conducts an interview to decide whether to approve or deny the asylum application. If asylum is granted, the refugee can claim social security benefits as if he or she were a Swiss national. After ten years of permanent residence and if additional conditions are met, a foreigner may apply for citizenship in Switzerland. For recognized refugees half of the years spent in Switzerland on a temporary residence permit may count towards that total time.

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Although most refugees seeking asylum in Turkey are from non-European countries,
Turkey’s instrument of accession to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees limits the scope of the Convention’s application to European asylum seekers, and Turkey’s Settlement Act still places emphasis on persons of Turkish descent and culture as the immigrants eligible for settlement in the country and possible citizenship. While Turkey’s Law on Foreigners and International Protection has instituted major changes in the country’s asylum system, most current asylum seekers are placed under “temporary protection” for settlement in another country rather than being accepted as refugees for settlement in Turkey. In the case of the influx of migrants from Syria, Turkish authorities have over the years expanded their rights and protections, but they remain barred from gaining regular refugee status and instead are classified as beneficiaries of temporary protection.

Applications for refugee status must be filed in person in provincial offices of the Directorate General of Migration Management. Such applications are registered and the applicant is then scheduled for an interview. The authorities issue the applicant and any accompanying family members an International Protection Applicant Identity Document, valid for six months, upon completion of the interview. Assessment of the application is to be finalized within six months of the date of its registration. Under some circumstances, such as giving the authorities misleading information, an application is handled under an accelerated procedure that may result in its being rejected.

Under the terms of temporary protection, the authorities provide for refugees’ basic needs and also furnish social services, translation services, IDs, travel documents, access to primary and secondary education, and work permits. Applicants for protection may be obliged by the authorities to live in designated reception and accommodation centers or in a specific location, and to report to the authorities in a certain manner or at certain intervals.

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The UK has extensive provisions in place to provide protection to persons seeking asylum
while protecting the public from individuals who may exploit the asylum system. The application process for asylum seekers starts at the border. A fast-track process has been developed to help reduce the extensive caseload of asylum cases, which allows certain applications to be rejected upon receipt if the individual is from a country deemed safe by the UK. For all other applicants, a decision is made on the well-established criteria of whether the individual has a well-founded fear of persecution or other harm. A new program has been introduced in response to the Syrian crisis, which accepts selected refugees from the Syrian region.

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Last Updated: 12/30/2020