Factometer: fiction

The claim
“The Liberal Democrats… would allow asylum seekers to work, which would be a fundamental mistake given that 83 per cent of asylum seekers are found not to have a genuine claim.”
Alan Johnson, home secretary, BBC Politics Show, 25 April 2010

The background
The idea that hordes of “bogus asylum seekers” are trying to get into the UK has generated many a tabloid headline over the past decade.

The government draws a line between refugees and those coming here for economic purposes by preventing asylum applicants from working in all but exceptional circumstances.

But the Lib Dems want to reduce spending on benefits by letting asylum seekers find paid work after two months, regardless of whether their case has been approved.

This would, Johnson said, be a “fundamental mistake” – given that 83 per cent of asylum seekers turn out not to have a genuine reason for seeking sanctuary in the UK.

That’s a strikingly high figure – but is it correct?

The analysis

According to the latest Home Office stats, 73 per cent of the 24,550 initial asylums rulings in 2009 were refusals. That’s 10 percentage points lower than Johnson suggested, and in 2008 it was even lower – 68 per cent.

Technically, only 17 per cent of the cases last year were granted asylum – permanent refugee status according to a UN convention – corresponding to the home secretary’s 83 per cent figure.

But a further 10 per cent of cases were granted temporary humanitarian protection or discretionary leave to remain – meaning the government thought they had good reason to stay in the country.

These initial figures still don’t tell the whole story – there’s also an appeals process, and the Lib Dems argue the strict system means many genuine cases are turned down first time round.

In 2009, there were around 15,000 asylum appeals (not necessarily relating to the same cases as the 2009 refusals figure). Of these appeals, 4,150 were successful, meaning the eventual number of asylum cases refused would be lower than the number of initial refusals.

A Labour spokesperson told FactCheck: “Home Office figures confirm that 83 per cent of asylum seekers were not granted refugee status in 2009.”

The verdict

Alan Johnson uses the harshest measure of a successful asylum claim to attack the Lib Dem’s policy of allowing asylum seekers to work.

His 83 per cent figure ignores 10 per cent of asylum claims which were granted leave to stay in the UK on humanitarian or discretionary grounds – making it hard to dismiss these as not genuine.

He also ignores the cases subsequently found to have genuine merit on appeal – just over a quarter of those that make it through to an appeal tribunal.

That’s not to dispute that the majority of asylum claims are rejected. But given the context in which Johnson cited the statistic and the need to be careful about the way figures are presented on such an emotive subject, we rate his claim fiction.