Information for refugees – the law

General information on your rights and responsibilities, what is legal and illegal, and protecting and caring for children

2 police officers patrolling on foot

Rights and freedoms

Every person in the UK has the same basic human rights and freedoms, which are protected in law. These underpin how people live in the UK. For example:

  • Every person has a right to liberty, which means you cannot be unlawfully detained. You also have a right to a fair trial. Everyone must be treated fairly and equally under the law.
  • Every person has freedom of thought and the right to practise their religion. However it is illegal if, as part of this, you take part in activities which break UK laws. It is against the law to discriminate against or persecute someone because of their beliefs.
  • Every individual has a right to marry whomever they want, regardless of race, or religion. However there are exceptions, for example you cannot be married to more than one person at one time, or marry certain relatives.

Values and responsibilities in the UK

Based on the rights and freedoms protected in law, everyone living in or visiting the UK is expected to adhere to a set of shared values and responsibilities. Core values include:

  • Respect and obey the law
  • Respect the rights of others, including their right to their own opinions
  • Treat others with fairness.

The law in the UK

The law applies to everyone in the UK. Cases are decided by judges in a court of law. In every case both sides are treated fairly. Every person can be represented by a lawyer.

Respect for the law is very important in the UK and everyone must obey the law. If you break the law, there are consequences. You could receive a fine or you could go to prison.

It is important to know that some things which may be allowed in other countries are not acceptable in the UK and it is your responsibility to live within the law of the UK. It is also important to understand some things which may not be allowed in other countries may be legal in the UK.

Protecting and caring for your children

The UK has signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international laws promoting children’s rights. The UK takes children’s rights seriously and is always trying to improve the situation of all children. For this reason the UK has passed a number of laws that help protect children.

Children have a right to have their views listened to and considered. There are official Children’s Commissioners that help make sure that the rights and views of children are considered.

In some circumstances in the UK, children aged 14 and older have a right to make certain decisions for themselves, such as medical decisions.

As a parent you are legally responsible for the protection, care and well-being of your children.

It is a parent’s responsibility to make sure their children attend school. If you do not there can be legal action such as: a Parenting Order, an Education Supervision Order, a School Attendance Order or a fine.

It is an offence to leave children alone if this will put them at risk. Babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone.

Going to school is very important for the welfare of a child. Helping out with tasks at home must not stop a child from going to school.

When parents are having difficulties caring for their children, the government social services may be able to offer some help or advice. UK laws require social services to investigate allegations of child neglect or abuse.

If you beat, harm or neglect your children, social services can intervene. In some severe cases courts can ask social services to take the child to a foster home to make sure they are safe from harm.

If you are concerned that a child is at risk of harm, or is being harmed, you can contact North Lincolnshire Children’s Services on:

If a child is at immediate risk, you should call Humberside Police on 999 in an emergency or on 101 for a non-emergency.


  • Children and young people can get support about their concerns online from Childline,or by calling 0800 1111.
  • The NSPCC website, www.nspcc.org.uk, has information on preventing abuse and helping those affected to recover.
  • If you are concerned about grooming and child sexual exploitation, there is more information on the Not In Our Community website, www.notinourcommunity.org.
  • The Thinkuknow website, has advice on how children and young people can stay safe online.
  • You can gain access to online counselling and advice on emotional wellbeing on the Kooth website.

Gender and sex in law

Issues related to gender and sex are taken very seriously in the UK. The law says that you cannot be discriminated against because of your sex or your gender. This means:

  • Organisations, including companies and individuals in the UK have a legal duty to treat men and women equally.
  • Men and women have equal rights and duties in employment and in marriage and in all aspects of private and public life in the UK.
  • Transgender people have equal rights too.

Domestic abuse

Abuse can happen anywhere; for example, in someone’s own home, in a public place, in hospital, in a care home or in college. It can take place whether an adult lives alone or with others and includes:

  • It can be physical abuse like hitting, kicking or hair pulling
  • It can include emotional abuse like blackmail, mental torture and threats to disown a person or harm those they care about
  • It can also be controlling, for example, restricting a person’s movements or access to or contact with family or friends or preventing access to money or a chosen career
  • It can be coercive behaviour for example threats, humiliation or intimidation that is used to harm, punish or frighten
  • It can be rape – being married doesn’t mean that a partner has the right to force sex against the will of the other

Anybody, regardless of gender, nationality or any other distinguishing factor, can find themselves at risk of domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse is a serious crime in the UK. Anyone who is violent towards their partner, spouse or another family member, whether they are a man or a woman, married or living together, can be prosecuted. If children witness domestic abuse this could be considered child abuse and social services will investigate.

Anyone, including neighbours, can report domestic abuse and violence. Police will respond to reports and may make arrests or ask one partner to leave the home.

Conviction of a crime related to domestic abuse can negatively affect your immigration status and your ability to apply to live long term in the UK.

In some cases, courts can order the perpetrators of domestic abuse to stay away from the victim, from the family home and from places where the victim and children normally go, such as school. Violating this order can result in police action.

It is important for anyone facing domestic abuse to get help as soon as possible. There are safe places to go and stay in, called refuges or shelters.

If you experience domestic abuse, you should report it to the police. They can help you find a safe place to stay. You can also phone the 24-hour national Domestic Violence Freephone Helpline on 0808 2000 247 at any time.

Emergency numbers and Domestic Violence Helpline:

  • The police, ambulance and fire brigade: 999 (freephone, 24 hours)
  • The Blue Door provide domestic abuse support services in North Lincolnshire. Contact their helpline on 0800 197 4787 or email info@thebluedoor.org
  • National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247 (freephone, 24 hours), run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge
  • Broken Rainbow National LGBT domestic abuse helpline: 0300 999 5428 (not 24 hour freephone line).

Honour based violence

In the UK it is illegal to abuse or harm anyone for cultural reasons or reasons of family honour, whether they are a member of the same family or not. For example, it is illegal to punish another family member for what someone considers to be dishonourable behaviour. There are men and women in the UK who have been convicted and sent to prison for harming family members for reasons of honour.

If you are worried about honour based violence you can speak to the police. You can also get confidential advice from an organisation called Karma Nirvana on 0800 5999 247

Female genital mutilation

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) also known as cutting or female circumcision is illegal in the UK. Practising FGM or taking a girl or woman abroad for FGM is a criminal offence punishable by law.

If you are a victim of FGM, you need to speak with your doctor. There are doctors who specialise in helping FGM victims. You can also ask for advice from one of several national organisations, such as the NSPCC on 0800 028 3550.

Children who are worried that they are in danger of FGM can speak to police, teachers, social workers, or Childline on 0800 1111.


There is a distinction between civil and religious marriages. Religious marriages are not recognised unless they are registered by the state. Some religious marriages are not recognised in the UK and couples entering into them must have a civil marriage as well.

The legal minimum age to marry in the UK is 16. In England you need parental consent to marry between the ages of 16 and 18.

In England it is legal and accepted for men and women to marry, for women and women to marry and for men and men to marry. All of these marriages are protected by law.

A marriage should be entered into with the full and free consent of both people involved.

Arranged marriages, where both parties agree to the marriage, are acceptable in the UK.

Forced marriage is where one or both parties do not or cannot give their consent or where duress is a factor. Forcing another person to marry is a criminal offence. Parents cannot force their children to marry. It is also an offence to take someone overseas to force them to marry.

For advice on forced marriage, contact Karma Nirvana on 0800 5999 247 or The Forced Marriage Unit on 020 7008 0151.

Racism and discrimination

In the UK it is illegal to treat anyone differently because of their gender, race, religion, age, disability or sexual orientation.

Racism is unacceptable in the UK. It is a serious offence to injure, harass or verbally abuse someone because of their race or to damage their property for that reason. It is also against the law to stir up racial hatred. It is unacceptable to discriminate against another person because of their race, ethnicity or where they came from. You should not be treated any differently because of your race when applying for a job, looking for somewhere to live, using the National Health Service (NHS) or just buying something in a shop.

You should not experience racial harassment at work, school or in public (where other people make comments about your race or where you come from that are offensive or make you uncomfortable). If you or someone you know is the victim of racism: Do tell the authorities about it.

You can go to the police. If you don’t want to walk into a police station there are many ways you can report a racist crime; for example you can do it online at www.report-it.org.uk/home.

Do not try to deal with racism or racist attackers on your own. Get the authorities involved. If you try to resolve it on your own you could get hurt or even get into trouble with the police yourself.

The police and their duties

The police in the UK will:

  • Protect life and property
  • Prevent disturbances
  • Prevent and detect crime

The police exist to protect the public, their rights and the law. The police are there to help and assist you and you should not be afraid to approach them if you are the victim of a crime, see a crime happening, or for general assistance for example if you are lost.

If you need the police because of a crime then you should call the following telephone numbers:

999 – This is the number to call if you have an emergency, for example if you are the victim of an assault or see a crime taking place. When you call, say you need ‘police’, as this is also the number to call an ambulance or if there is a fire.

101 – This is the number to call for less urgent situations, for example if your property has been damaged, to give police information about a crime, or any general enquiries.


  • Everyone in the UK has rights that are protected in law – everyone also has a responsibility to respect the law.
  • The law may be different from where you came from, so you should make sure you understand what is legal and illegal in the UK.
  • If you have children, you have responsibility for their health and wellbeing.
  • Issues related to gender are taken very seriously in the UK – domestic violence, FGM, forced marriages and discrimination based on sex are illegal.
  • Discrimination is illegal in the UK – if you experience racism, you should report it.
  • The police exist to enforce the law and protect and assist you if needed – you should call 999 in an emergency.