Asylum seekers' main objective was finding a place of safety, report says
Asylum policy making should be based on solid evidence rather than "unfounded assumptions", says the author of new research about asylum seekers.
Prof Heaven Crawley, of Swansea University's migration policy research centre, said most had little choice of which country they claimed asylum in.
Policies designed to make the UK a less welcoming place therefore had no real influence on asylum seekers, she said.
The study looked at why asylum seekers came to the UK.
Prof Crawley said that a significant number of politicians, policy makers, and the public appeared to believe that asylum seekers were really economic migrants who had made their decision based on information about asylum systems, employment opportunities and access to welfare benefits.
But she found that the main objective was reaching a place of safety, and the decision about where that might be was very much a "secondary consideration".
The report, commissioned by the Refugee Council, said most asylum seekers were primarily concerned with escaping from persecution or war, and less than one-third of the research participants specifically wanted to come to the UK.
Three-quarters of the participants had no knowledge of welfare benefits and support before coming to the UK.
"These findings also strongly suggest that creating a tougher asylum system and harsher policies will not deter people fleeing persecution and violence in their own countries from coming to the UK," said Prof Crawley.
"Asylum policy making should be based on solid evidence such as that provided in this report rather than on unfounded assumptions and misperceptions about the reasons why people come here.
"This is the only way to ensure that the system is as accessible and humane as possible for people seeking protection."
Matthew Coats, head of immigration at the UK Border Agency, said: "The UK Border Agency operates a firm and fair system. We continue to build on Britain's long and proud tradition of supporting refugees genuinely in need of protection.
"We expect those who both we and the independent courts are satisfied do not need our protection to return home voluntarily - if they choose not to we will seek to enforce their removal."
'Barbaric policy making'
Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: "The UK government has made life very tough for asylum seekers that do get here, in the hope that this will prevent more from coming.
"This research shows, however, that the main reason asylum seekers come here is to escape conflict, and no amount of barbaric policy making will influence whether they come here or not.
"We urge everyone - politicians, newspaper editors, the public - to heed the findings of this report and address the reasons why asylum seekers come to the UK in a more humane and informed way."