Refugees living in the uk who are planning on travelling

In 2022 I asked two new joiners to plan a trip overseas. One of my team had refugee status and had a travel document. With this information known we planned and booked our trip, which unfortunately didn’t go to plan.

A travel document is not the same as a passport.

UK Travel Document

Before BREXIT the travel document was a document which allowed you to travel (to certain countries), post BREXIT the travel document is a document to store visa’s in. There are very few places you can now travel to post BREXIT without a visa.

Finding reliable information is essential

We researched and relied on public information, that information told us we could travel. There’s very limited advise on the FCDO website for refugees .

You might think that a refugee working in living and working in the UK makes them a temporary UK citizen, but the rules say you are a citizen of your home country until you have permanent residence. It’s quite difficult as different countries use different terminology.

So what is a good source?

IATA Timatic is the system most airlines use to check visa/entry status and it contains the official information. IATA charge for the service, but some airlines provide it to their customers for free.

You can find one such example here;

Sky team Travel document check tool
Result of IATA Timatic for a refugee in the UK trying to travel from London to France.

Our experience

At the time of travelling we were not aware of the above, we trusted the information we found online and didn’t expect any issues. Somehow the check-in staff also failed to identify the issue and we all boarded. It wasn’t until we arrived at our destination was entry denied and hours of questioning took place. My colleague eventually returned back to the UK several hours later.

Upon challenging this, the airline advised it was our mistake. We should have checked. Yes and No. We checked all reasonable information, the airline should have denied us boarding at the gate vs at the border of a foreign country.

To conclude

For refugees considering travel, assume you need a visa, use the IATA timatic tool to check and plan early.

Once you have a visa travel is fine, but don’t assume your airline is setup to notice you are a refugee travelling on a travel document. Many systems only prompt for a passport, so avoidable mistakes may go un-noticed until you arrive at your destination.

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