Access to the territory and push backs

United Kingdom

Country Report: Access to the territory and push backs Last updated: 24/04/24


Refugee Council Visit Website

Juxtaposed border controls in France and Belgium allow the UK to limit access to the territory. On 18 January 2018 the two governments reiterated their commitment to juxtaposed controls in the Sandhurst Agreement, although no new measures were introduced relating to the operation of those controls.[1] A report by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration into the juxtaposed controls has little mention of asylum claimants, although it does mention ‘ethical decision making’ through the use of discretion for Ukrainians without visas.[2]

The Equality Act 2010 permits immigration officers to discriminate on grounds of nationality if they do so in accordance with the authorisation of a minister.[3] This discrimination may include subjecting certain groups of passengers to a more rigorous examination. Ministerial authorisations are made on the basis of statistical information of a higher number of breaches of immigration law or of adverse decisions in relation to people of that nationality. The statistical basis is not published.

Immigration officers have the power to refuse entry at the border unless the passenger has a valid entry clearance or claims asylum. It is not known whether, and if so, how many people sent back from the border wished to claim asylum but did not say so to immigration officers or were de facto not given an opportunity to do so. UNHCR published a report in May 2023 of an audit they carried out on the UK’s asylum intake, registration and screening procedures.[4] Concerns were raised about the use of informal barriers to asylum claims, one airport was described as having a senior manager who advocated for his staff to try to persuade asylum seekers to withdraw their claims and noted particular success in this with young people.[5]

In 2023, 24,781 people were refused entry at the UK port of whom 8,200 were at the juxtaposed controls (see below) and were denied access to the UK.[6] The information states that these are non-asylum cases, although it is not known how many wished to claim asylum. The information also states that a proportion of those initially refused and detained at the border may subsequently be admitted although no figures are given for this category.

In the control zones in France and Belgium, no asylum claim can be made to UK authorities,[7] and the acknowledged purpose of these agreements with France and Belgium was to stop people travelling to the UK to claim asylum.[8] This was reiterated by the statement from the Home Secretary following talks between the leaders of France and the UK on 18 January 2018.[9] Of the 6,199 people turned back in control zones in the first nine months of 2023,[10] it is not known how many wished to claim asylum. There is little or no information about any attempted claims, and whether those who attempt to claim are referred to the authorities of the state of departure, as the regulations require.

During an investigation by the Children’s Commissioner for England in 2012, Home Office officials disclosed the ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’.[11] This operates in relation to people intercepted on landing in the UK who are considered to have made an illegal entry and who do not say that they wish to claim asylum. The agreement is between the UK and France and obliges France to accept the return of such passengers if this can be effected within 24 hours. Returns under the Gentleman’s Agreement are carried out without a formal refusal of leave to enter. Following the Commissioner’s discovery that this was being applied to young people, the practice was stopped in relation to acknowledged children. This agreement still applies to adults and those who appear to be adults. The 2003 Le Touquet Treaty, which is still applicable, states that anyone claiming asylum at the juxtaposed controls will be dealt with by the French authorities.[12]

The ministerial authorisation to discriminate in refusing leave to enter also takes effect in control zones.[13]

Therefore, although there is little or no substantiated evidence of refoulement taking place at the border, current UK policy and practice creates a risk of this occurring. Reports of Albanians held in the short-term holding facility at Manston and quickly removed to Albania raised questions about the lack of access to legal advice to allow people held there to realistically consider making an asylum claim.[14]

A new joint statement between the two countries related to Channel crossings was signed in November 2022.[15] Between 2014 and 2022, the UK committed approx. £232 million to border security in northern France and is expected to commit  more than £476 million just over the next three years.[16] Following a new declaration in March 2023, the UK will notably fund 500 additional officers in France, new infrastructure and surveillance equipment (such as drones, helicopters) and a new French immigration detention centre.[17] There is however no readmission agreement between the two countries.[18]

Discussions have taken place between the two states regarding responsibility for search and rescue as well as preventative measures. In January 2022 the UK government announced that the military would play a role in what appeared to be pushbacks, not search and rescue. During an urgent parliamentary debate, the Defence Minister stated that the Royal Navy would play a deterrent rather than a pushbacks role (including the use of Sonic booms) but was not speaking on behalf of the entire government.[19] A challenge to the policy and practice of pushbacks resulted in a consent order whereby all relevant policies were withdrawn.[20]

The UK government continues to blame ‘criminal smuggling gangs’ and individuals themselves for the danger to life – condemning the actions of both and pledging both to return those who travel from France and promising to treat such people in the criminal justice system as well as making agreements with the French government to prevent people from leaving in this manner. The Home Secretary appointed a Clandestine Channel Threat Commander in August 2020.[21] In September 2020 a parliamentary committee opened a new inquiry on the issue of Channel crossings and asylum-seeking routes throughout the EU and following written and oral evidence published its report in July 2022.[22] The government responded in October 2022. The response indicated that its recent reforms (including the 2022 NABA and Rwanda plan) were aimed at deterrence and shortly afterwards a new announcement was made outlining cooperation with the French authorities including monitoring the French coastline, investment in reception and removal centres in France and more funding for surveillance and detection technology.[23]

In 2022 there were 1,381 attempted Channel crossings that were prevented, carrying 33,788 people.[24] In 2023 there were 29,437 people who arrived in the UK by small boat across the Channel. This was 36% lower than in 2022 and the reduction is explained partly by poor weather conditions as well as a 93% reduction in Albanians arriving via this route.[25] In 2021 it is estimated that 41 people died while trying to cross the Channel, in 2022 this was 13 people. In 2023 it is estimated that 19 people died trying to make the crossing of the Channel to the UK.[26]

In one incident on 24 November 2021 it is estimated that at least 27 people died trying to cross the Channel. The Marine Accident Investigation Branch published an Accident Investigation Report on 8 November 2023.[27] Documents disclosed under a Freedom of Information request showed that just prior to this incident the UK coastguard downgraded emergency calls from as many as four boats, meaning that they were treated as not in need of urgent rescue.[28] On 9 November 2023 the government announced an independent, non-statutory inquiry into the incident.[29]

An interim report was published by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch in December 2023 in relation to another incident on 14 December 2022 where at least 8 people died.[30]


Border monitoring

The only land border in the UK is between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and passport checks are not in routine operation.[31]


Legal access to the territory

For information about family reunification, please see the specific Family reunification section.

There is no humanitarian visa available for people to apply for outside the UK, so that they can enter to claim asylum. Resettlement schemes are available, these are the UK Resettlement Scheme, Community Sponsorship Scheme and Mandate Resettlement Scheme, all of these schemes take refugees identified by UNHCR.[32] People arriving under these resettlement schemes are granted the standard five years’ refugee leave once they arrive in the UK.

The UK Resettlement Scheme brought 485 people to the UK in the first half of 2023, 132 people came via the Community Sponsorship Scheme and 15 via the Mandate Scheme.[33]

The first specific resettlement programme was announced in January 2014; this had no specific quota. In September 2015 the government committed to resettle 20,000 Syrians by the end of the parliament in 2020. This quota had been reached by the end of February 2021; the delay largely being caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic. In June 2019 the then Home Secretary committed to resettling 5,000 refugees in the year following the end of the current programme (from April 2020).[34] However, this was not met and there is currently no annual commitment for the resettlement of refugees.

Since 1 July 2017, people who have been resettled are granted Refugee Status and those already here under a resettlement programme were allowed to convert their status to recognise them as refugees.[35]

The government launched a Community Sponsorship scheme as part of the VPRS programme in 2022. There are strict criteria for becoming a sponsor, including the type of organisation that can apply and the need to be approved by the local authority before applying to the Home Office. Guidance was issued at the same time as the scheme was launched.[36]

In 2017 the government also committed to resettling an additional 3,000 individuals under a ‘children at risk’ programme.[37] In partnership with UNHCR, the UK brought children from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region; a minority of whom are expected to be unaccompanied. The government announced the programme in response to calls to bring children from Europe. The scheme was closed at the end of February 2021 when all the quota had been resettled.[38]

Separate schemes are in place for a very limited number of Afghans, it is not possible to apply and the most recent request for expressions of interest closed in 2022.[39] The Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy resettled 2,904 people to the UK in 2023. An Afghan resettlement scheme (ACRS) was also announced, firstly in August 2021 but with details in January 2022. Of the three identified pathways only one grants refugee status (pathway 2), taking referrals from UNHCR in line with the usual resettlement pathway. In 2023, 104 people had been resettled through this pathway and 688 under pathway 3.[40] Others who were evacuated in 2021 or are to be brought directly with the assistance of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, were be given indefinite leave to remain outside of the Immigration Rules.[41] This makes applying for family reunion more difficult.[42] Despite being entitled to access public funds, many Afghan families have had difficulties in moving to long term accommodation.[43]

Information about the funding to local authorities to enable them to support resettled refugees is publicly available.[44] However, at the end of 2022 9,483 people, around half of whom were children, were still being housed in hotels or similar accommodation.[45]



[1] Secretary of State for the Home Department, ‘Update on the Levelling Up Bill – Statement made on 6 December 2022’, HCWS415, 19 January 2018, available at:

[2] ICIBI, An inspection of juxtaposed controls – April-May 2022, October 2022, available at:

[3] Section 29 and Schedule 3, Part 4 Equality Act 2010.

[4] UNHCR, Asylum screening in the UK, 26 May 2023, available at:  

[5] UNHCR, Asylum screening in the UK, 26 May 2023, available at:, 26.

[6] Home Office, Immigration system statistics data tables, Passengers refused entry at the border detailed datasets, year ending December 2023, table Stp_D01, 29 February 2024, available at:

[7] In the case of France, this is stated in Article 4 of the Additional Protocol CM 5015 to the Protocol between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the French Republic concerning Frontier Controls and Policing, Co-operation in Criminal Justice, Public Safety and Mutual Assistance relating to the Channel Fixed Link, Cm 2366, signed at Sangatte on 25 November 1991. It is not explicit in the Belgian agreement.

[8] ICIBI, An Inspection of Juxtaposed Controls, 2013, available at:

[9] Secretary of State for the Home Department, ‘Statement to Parliament’, 19 January 2018, available at:

[10] Home Office, Immigration Statistics, Passengers refused entry at the border, year ending September 2023, available at:

[11] Article 9 Le Touquet Treaty, available at:  

[12] Article 9 Le Touquet Treaty, available at:  

[13] Para 17(4)(A) Ministerial Authorisation, para 4; Schedule 3, Part 4 Equality Act 2010.

[14] Diane Taylor, ‘Concerns raised over due process in case of 11 Albanians flown out of UK’, The Guardian, 18 October 2022, available at:

[15] Al Jazeera, ‘France, UK sign deal to stop asylum seekers crossing Channel’, 14 November 2022, available at:

[16] Melanie Gower for the House of Commons Library, Irregular migration: a timeline of UK-French cooperation, 22 March 2023, available at:

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Hansard parliamentary record ‘Migrant Crossings: Role of the Military’, 18 January 2022, available at:

[20] High Court, R (on the application of (1) PUBLIC AND COMMERCIAL SERVICES UNION (2) CARE 4 CALAIS and Secretary of State for the Home Department, Consent Order, CO/4338/2021, 25 April 2022, available at:

[21] Government, ‘Home Secretary appoints small boats commander’, August 2020, available at:

[22] Home Affairs Select Committee, at:, including first report and government response. Case note and link to judgment Da and Ors, available at:

[23] UK Government, ‘UK-France joint statement: enhancing co-operation against illegal migration’, 14 November 2022, available at:

[24] Home Office, Policy paper: UK-France Joint Leaders’ Declaration, 10 March 2023, available at:

[25] Home Office, Official Statistics: Irregular migration to the UK, year endings December 2023, 29 February 2024, available at:

[26] Missing Migrants Project, accessed 24 March 2024, available at:

[27] Marine Accident Investigation Branch, ‘Flooding and partial sinking of an inflatable migrant boat with at least 27 lives lost’, 8 November 2023, available at:

[28] Aaron Walawalkar, Harriet Clugston and Mark Townsend, ‘Revealed: UK coastguard downgraded 999 calls from refugees in days before mass drowning’, The Observer, 4 November 2023, available at:

[29] Department for Transport and Marine Accident Investigation Branch, ‘Inquiry into Channel incident of 24 November 2021’, 9 November 2023, available at:

[30] Marine Accident Investigation Branch, Interim report on the investigation of the foundering of an inflatable migrant boat, resulting in the loss of at least 8 lives in the English Channel on 14 December 2022, December 2023, available at:

[31] House of Commons Library, Research briefing: The Common Travel Area and the special status of Irish citizens in UK law, 16 August 2023, available at:  

[32] Home Office, UK Refugee Resettlement: Policy Guidance, August 2021, available at:  

[33] Home Office, Immigration system statistics data tables, Asylum applications, initial decisions and resettlement detailed datasets, year ending December 2023, table Asy_D01, available at:

[34] UK government, ‘New global resettlement scheme for refugees announced’, June 2019, available at:

[35] Secretary of State for the Home Department, ‘Statement to Parliament’, 22 March 2017, available at:

[36] Home Office, Community sponsorship, September 2022, available at:

[37] Home Office, ‘Fact sheet: government support for vulnerable children’, available at:  

[38] Home Office, ‘Vulnerable Persons and Vulnerable Childrens Resettlement Schemes Factsheet, March 2021’, available at:  

[39] UK government, Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme Pathway 3: eligibility for British Council and GardaWorld contractors and Chevening Alumni, 17 October 2023, available at:  

[40] Home Office, Immigration system statistics data tables, Asylum applications, initial decisions and resettlement detailed datasets, year ending December 2023, table Asy_D02, 29 February 2024, available at:

[41] Home Office, ‘Afghan Resettlement Programme: operational data, January 2022, available at:

[42] As the applicable Immigration Rules are at Appendix FM, not Appendix Family Reunion  

[43] Immigration Rules, Appendix Family Reunion..

[44] UK Visas and Immigration, ‘Guidance – Funding Instruction for local authorities in the support of the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme and Afghan relocation and Assistance Policy’, last updated 10 January 2023, available at:

[45] Home Office, ‘Transparency data – Afghan Resettlement Programme: operational data’, 23 February 2023, available at:

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection