Asylum Seekers in Scotland

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ASYLUM SEEKERS IN SCOTLAND

CHAPTER EIGHT: GOOD PRACTICE

8.1 INTRODUCTION

In this chapter, we bring together the material on good practice which has emerged during the course of the report. We identify what aspects of service provision for asylum seekers and of community relations work are praised and copied within Scotland, and also examine some recognised good practice examples from elsewhere. Finally, we examine processes of policy and practice learning, and consider how the dissemination of good practice might be more effectively promoted.

The notion of 'good practice' can be both contentious and difficult. A number of service providers, for example, identified policies and procedures which they were pursuing, which they believed were examples of good practice, but this view was not necessarily shared by the asylum seekers themselves. In this chapter therefore, we have tried to identify as good practice, those areas of practice which were also identified by asylum seekers, and which also link to national trends.

This discussion is informed by the stakeholders' seminar which was held in Glasgow in September 2002 and attended by a range of service provider and asylum seeker representatives.

8.2 GOOD PRACTICE IN SERVICE PROVISION

8.2.1 Support for asylum seekers

The most successful examples of good practice were those which were focused on the asylum seekers' perspective. Many service providers felt that the services delivered by Glasgow City Council were in this category and there were certainly a number of service areas, such as housing, where asylum seekers were generally positive. The documentation which had been produced for asylum seekers on their arrival in the city was thought to be excellent and there was general praise for the Council's Welcome Pack.

Some service providers felt that the YMCA, having initially struggled because of bad publicity, had responded to concerns and tried hard to resolve the issues raised. They were seen as giving increased support to asylum seekers, although asylum seekers themselves did not identify the YMCA as an example of good practice.

Many asylum seekers have difficulty accessing services, because of difficulties in communication. The work of the interpreting services was widely praised, particularly in view of the range of languages now spoken in Glasgow. There was also praise for the various examples across all services of translated material.

Approaches to service provision which were holistic were thought to be particularly successful, as this allows for flexibility and the ability to deal with all the various needs of asylum seekers, rather than trying to compartmentalise.

Asylum seekers themselves had developed a series of mutual support organisations and these were also seen as being extremely important. A Local Exchange and Trading Scheme (LETS) is being discussed, as this would allow asylum seekers to work through exchanging their skills and services, rather than being paid, which would not be allowed. There was a widespread view that schemes such as these were worthy of a greater level of support than they were perhaps receiving.

Another way in which asylum seekers were being supported in the employment area was in 'work shadowing' and the Bridges Project, run by the Institute for Contemporary Scotland in conjunction with the Scottish Refugee Council, was seen as a model of good practice. The scheme is aimed at asylum seekers and refugees who are either waiting for their status to be decided or who have been given leave to remain and wish to access the work environment. Individuals undertake three month placements, observing the work of others and gaining the knowledge needed subsequently to apply for a job. It therefore prepares asylum seekers and refugees for the return to work.

8.2.2 The Education Service

The Education Service was widely praised by asylum seekers themselves, and by other service providers. As well as providing a safe learning environment for children of asylum seekers, schools had developed good bilingual support, and this was seen as being extremely important, particularly at primary level. It was thought that teachers were giving out very positive messages, being 'proud to have bilingual students'.

The role of schools in community relations was also praised and the children of asylum seekers were thought to be relatively well integrated in the community.

Education for adult asylum seekers was also important and local projects such as Bridging the Gap were praised. This project, based in the Gorbals, provides English classes, in conjunction with Glasgow College of Nautical Studies. Other colleges were also providing excellent adult education in English.

The Scottish Refugee Council was also thought to be providing a valuable education service, through offering specialist advice on the accreditation of overseas qualifications, and guidance on careers and employment.

8.2.3 The Health Service

The Health Service was seen as providing a good service, particularly at a local level and there was widespread praise for local GP practices, who were seen as having done good work with asylum seekers, despite difficulties involved in language and communication.

There had also been excellent work carried out by the Primary Health Care Trust in organising medical screening by questionnaire, in order to build up a picture of asylum seekers' medical conditions.

A major concern has been the mental health of asylum seekers and mental health workers were thought to have carried out their work sensitively, being prepared to 'listen to trauma'. That said, there is research evidence elsewhere (Ferguson and Barclay 2002), which demonstrates that problems in the provision of mental health services to asylum seekers still exist. Their findings are similar to those of Lewis and Church (2001) in their Liverpool study, referred to below in paragraph 8.4.

8.2.4 The Police

The police were seen as being sensitive in terms of their use of interpreters, their appointment of specialist officers for working with asylum seekers, and their willingness to accept third party reporting, whereby referrals to the police are made through other organisations.

It was suggested that the work of the police in Glasgow was seen in England as a model of good practice.

8.2.5 Voluntary Organisations

The role of voluntary organisations was widely recognised. These ranged from organisations like the Churches and the Mosques to various community groups which were important for community development. Some individual community groups were singled out as having worked hard to integrate asylum seekers into the local community. Voluntary groups were seen as having the flexibility to work well with asylum seekers, as they were not as restricted as the local authority, not having any contractual ties to NASS.

As well as community groups, there were also groups such as Victim Support, who have worked with asylum seekers in relation to trauma and mental health issues.

There are voluntary groups who offer very practical support. Glasgow Student Action for Refugees, for example, runs a weekly food co-operative for asylum seekers. And for asylum seekers who receive permission to stay in the UK, the Scottish Refugee Council status advisors offer a family reunion service. This is a service which reunites close family members following a positive decision on an asylum claim.

8.2.6 Joint Working

Multi-agency working was identified by many respondents as being the basis of good practice in work with asylum seekers and its development was seen as being of great significance. At the same time, difficulties in multi-agency working were identified, including the considerable time commitment it involved; lack of commitment by some partners; and the demands which it made on specialist agencies in particular.

Nevertheless, joint working allows all agencies to have 'ownership' of the issues and solutions and examples of good practice can be exchanged between organisations.

A good example is provided by Edinburgh Council, which is one of the local authorities discussing taking asylum seekers in the near future and which has worked to ensure good co-ordination between agencies. Their Education Department has developed a 'roadshow', in conjunction with the Scottish Refugee Council and the Edinburgh and Lothians Refugee Forum, which has toured primary and secondary schools in the city. It has been used to inform school pupils about the plight of refugees and asylum seekers, and the possible implications of asylum seekers moving into their area. Subsequent presentations have been made at some of the city's F.E. colleges.

8.3 GOOD PRACTICE IN COMMUNITY RELATIONS

There is a wide perception that the grassroots activity of community groups is helping to foster good community relations. There is a reservoir of goodwill towards asylum seekers in many areas which is an important resource, and which is being tapped by many groups.

Community groups are becoming significant providers of services for asylum seekers. Services include crèches, drop-in and advice centres and a range of classes, including languages, sewing, creative writing, dance and relaxation, as well as children's and youth groups. The provision of such a wide range of services and the automatic assumption that asylum seekers are part of their client group is an example of good practice. It is clearly helping to foster integration.

The Churches have played a major role. For example, in Castlemilk, the organisation 'Castlemilk Churches Together' was established in Autumn 2000 and has become an important local resource, staffed with volunteers from the local community.

The role of community organisations in helping to foster local festivals and street parties was also seen as significant. The West End Festival has existed for a number of years and there have been further developments, notably the North Glasgow International Festival, held in June 2001. Such events may take on much greater significance in the future, as asylum seekers decide to remain in Glasgow, following a positive decision. They may develop much as the Notting Hill Carnival has developed in London.

Local groups were also seen as having a major role to play in helping to organise public meetings. These can involve the statutory agencies - Housing, Social Work, Police etc - and help to explain the position of asylum seekers, and raise awareness of issues.

8.4 EXAMPLES FROM ELSEWHERE

Research which has been undertaken elsewhere, for example by Oxford Brookes University, has also highlighted examples of good practice and many of them parallel the Scottish experience. This section describes some of the good practice which may be found in England.

8.4.1 Support for asylum seekers

One of the main concerns of the English consortia has been to try and maintain coherent language clusters, as this offers the opportunity to devise efficient and responsive support packages, including most crucially, the provision of appropriate interpretation facilities. From the asylum seeker's point of view, relatively homogeneous language groupings would provide solidarity, mutual support networks and, if the host communities shared the same languages, the possibility of developing wider social networks as well. As a result, those eventually given a positive decision to remain might feel more inclined to settle locally.

Some consortia have not always achieved their aims and have had to deal with a multiplicity of languages and lack of information on which to plan translation services and language support in schools. On the other hand, the Yorkshire and Humberside Consortium has been resolute about limiting asylum households to their designated languages. While this may be seen in some ways as being less flexible than some other consortia, there have also been positive outcomes: in particular, the greater scope to identify suitable accommodation for asylum seekers and provide appropriate support packages.

A key area of support relates to the initial reception of asylum seekers. Glasgow, for example, has received praise for its Welcome Pack. Another specific example of good practice is the Hillside Centre in Leeds, which is used to accommodate asylum households dispersed to the region for a period of two weeks, during which time they have health screening, language training, induction to the area and registration with local health and education facilities. This is believed to create a greater capacity for independence when asylum seekers are placed in accommodation and reduces ad hoc demands on local services due to ignorance of systems. Interestingly, Fife Council has decided to adopt this particular model (see paragraph 6.5).

As in Scotland, approaches to asylum seeker support which are holistic are seen as good practice. Zetter and Pearl (1999), for example, refer to the work of many housing associations in England who have adopted a holistic 'Housing Plus' approach, assisting asylum seekers to access training, work experience and education, so as to enhance their opportunity to achieve independence and a better quality of life.

Some associations have also worked to support tenant groups made up of refugees and asylum seekers, as part of their tenant participation strategies. This has helped to give asylum seekers a voice in relation to the housing service. Similarly, Carey-Wood (1997) identifies refugee-specific housing initiatives as being good practice, because they are easily identifiable to users.

The area of translation and interpreting is also one where asylum seekers themselves could have an input. The Audit Commission (2000), for example, describe the work of the London Borough of Lewisham, which has a project to provide asylum seekers with an accredited qualification in community translation that offers a route to the Institute of Linguists qualification. Training asylum seekers in this way can help bridge gaps in provision and ensure a speedy response to any new asylum seekers with new language needs, while recognising that in small language clusters, issues of confidentiality may arise.

8.4.2 The Education Service

Education services have been very closely involved in the development of good practice, because of the sheer number of children in asylum households. In the Manchester consortium, the Ethnic Minority Achievement Service (EMAS), which is part of the city council, has a number of initiatives as regards the education of asylum seekers' children and adult education. The 500 capitation per dispersed asylum seeker child, is used in Manchester to 'buy back' an interpretation service from EMAS. This provides 50 hours of interpretation for each child, with EMAS employing interpreters in 33 different languages. Manchester Education Authority has appointed extra teachers of English as an 'additional' language. Additional funding is available to support asylum seeker children, from The Children's Fund which EMAS uses to fund five full-time Family and Support Workers and a trauma support team.

EMAS also produces a Welcome Document for asylum seekers, providing information on the English educational system for children of statutory school age. It covers how to access schools, what children can expect at school, English language and special educational needs, plus a contact list of useful local agencies.

In the West Midlands, some extra funding has come from the New Opportunities Fund for out-of-hours work with pupils. Birmingham Education services are currently investigating new funding avenues including the 'pupil support allowance' for all newly arrived children, as funding specifically for asylum seekers tends to be perceived as divisive and discriminatory in relation to the settled minority ethnic communities in Birmingham.

8.4.3 The Health Service

As in Scotland, there are examples of good practice elsewhere and the Oxford Brookes research specifically highlights the mental health area as one where a great deal of work has been done. For example, in Birmingham, the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, in an initiative which predates dispersal, provides some outreach through the Midlands Refugee Council (MRC) and a network of city and regional resources. The MRC Health Initiative specialises in working with the victims of torture with a holistic approach to health. But the work performed by the MRC is insufficient to meet the level of demand now presented by the asylum seekers. After a successful bid to the Challenge Fund it secured funding to the end of March 2002, enabling it to employ two mental health workers.

Another, but different example of good practice relates to filling the information gap about asylum seeker mental health conditions and needs. In Liverpool, the Mental Health Needs Assessment Working Group of the local health authority has undertaken research in this field. This began following the influx of refugees from Kosovo, continuing with the arrival of asylum seekers through dispersal. The survey has highlighted the mental health problems faced by asylum seekers, including emotional problems (anxiety, fear, frustration, disappointment, anger, unhappiness), depression, past trauma, and uncertainty over the future, specifically their asylum claim.

Research by Carey-Wood (1997) has suggested that health initiatives which are refugee-specific have decided advantages, because of the need to combine language skills, medical knowledge and knowledge of the refugee experience. The use of interpreters without specialist training in medical situations is not adequate. She identifies projects in London, for example in Haringey Health Authority, which use outreach workers based in health authority premises, and such an approach could be useful also in assisting asylum seekers.

One of the main problems which occurs in areas where large numbers of asylum seekers are living is the strain on individual GP practices. The Audit Commission (2000) suggests that this can be reduced by establishing a dedicated resource for high mobility groups. South Camden Primary Care Group, for example, has employed an extra doctor specifically to work in a practice with a high intake of transient patients, while Parkside Health Trust in west London has set up a Health Support Team to improve access to health services for asylum seekers and refugees. The Commission suggests that these approaches would be appropriate for areas where there is a high density of refugees and asylum seekers

8.4.4 Voluntary Organisations

The role of voluntary organisations is particularly significant and there are several examples of good practice, particularly with the voluntary and statutory sectors working together. For example, in Liverpool, the Refugee and Ethnic Minority Support Services (REMISUS) is a small but active group with a number of aims, one of which is to provide supported accommodation for asylum seekers and refugees in partnership with local housing associations. It also provides advice, information and support. REMISUS has recently received funding and has begun to develop and build upon some of these ideas. Comprised of refugees, the organisation has extensive experience of asylum seeker and refugee concerns including, importantly, mental health problems.

In Glasgow, there is evidence that the Churches and the Mosque have provided significant support to asylum seekers. The Oxford Brookes study also indicates that faith-based groups have played a major role in plugging gaps left by more formal organisations. Examples include areas such as Lincoln, where the level of dispersal is relatively low and the support networks characteristic of large urban areas do not exist. Lincoln Welcome is a church based organisation which remains the only refugee agency in the city. But even in the major dispersal regions there is a similar picture. In the North West the West Midlands and Yorkshire and Humberside, the Churches and faith groups have also provided support, often in the form of much needed commodities such as food parcels and welcome/arrival packs for asylum seekers or for local authority asylum teams to distribute.

8.5 POLICY AND PRACTICE LEARNING

Although there are a number of examples of good practice both in Scotland and elsewhere, such practice has often evolved independently and there are only limited examples of the different consortia learning from each other. The very different approaches of the consortia can be seen, for example, in relation to language clusters. As noted above, Yorkshire and Humberside has adopted a far firmer line than elsewhere in relation to the asylum seekers they were prepared to accept, specifically so as to minimise the numbers of languages with which they would have to deal.

There are too very different approaches to reception. Leeds places asylum seekers in a reception centre for a couple of weeks, to allow for an induction process. Other consortia have placed asylum seekers more quickly into houses, in the belief that this would allow them to settle into the local communities. Both approaches are valid and both are adopted in Scotland, with Glasgow using the latter approach, while Fife has chosen to use the Leeds model. The Glasgow Welcome Pack is being copied in other Scottish authorities.

There seems to be a general acceptance across all consortia that the needs and problems of asylum seekers cannot easily be compartmentalised according to service provider or departmental responsibilities and a holistic approach is required.

There is also a general acceptance of the importance of the voluntary sector and of faith groups, including the Churches, Mosques etc.

There does not, however, appear to be any organised way in which the good practice of one consortium can be passed on to another. Local authorities in Scotland who are at the first stages of taking asylum seekers for example, have visited English authorities to learn from their experiences but this seems to have taken place on an individual basis. It may therefore be more appropriate in future for information exchange and the dissemination of good practice to become more organised.

There are undoubtedly a number of areas, where Scottish authorities can still learn from experiences elsewhere. Firstly, there are a number of health initiatives described in section 8.4 above, which would have an important impact in Glasgow, notably in mental health provision and in additional support for hard pressed GP practices.

Secondly, there are an increasing number of organisations being established in England which are led by refugees and asylum seekers themselves. This appears to be the case particularly in the housing and employment areas. By contrast, Scotland, unlike England, has no fully developed black and minority ethnic led housing association yet. In England, such associations have taken a lead in working with refugees and asylum seekers. It will be important for such refugee-led organisations to be developed in Scotland, as asylum seekers increasingly obtain positive decisions to remain in the UK and decide to stay in the Glasgow area.

Finally, this whole area of developing 'move-on' strategies for refugees is one which will become increasingly important, as the numbers of refugees opting to remain in Scotland increases. Examples of good practice such as work shadowing (described above) are particularly important in this regard, so that refugees can start to move into the labour market. Many English organisations have developed expertise in planning 'move-on' strategies, as they have dealt with refugees for many years, so it is important that ways are found of enabling Scottish organisations to learn from these experiences.

8.6 CONCLUDING POINTS

There are a number of conclusions which may be drawn from this examination of good practice.

Good Practice in General

  • There are a number of examples of good practice in relation to working with asylum seekers. Some of these may be derived from within Scottish practice; some have emerged from the experiences of the English consortia.
  • Specifically, it is recognised that holistic approaches to practice, which deal with the range of issues and problems affecting asylum seekers are ultimately more effective. Multi-agency working was identified by many respondents as being the basis of good practice in work with asylum seekers.
  • Good practice has emerged in the different consortia rather independently and there does not appear to be a readily accessible mechanism for the dissemination of good practice. As more local authorities negotiate contracts with NASS, it is important that they have the opportunity to learn from the experiences of other consortia.

Good Practice in Reception

  • One of the most important areas of practice relates to the initial reception of asylum seekers. There are differences in approach across the consortia but each has its strengths. Within Glasgow, the Welcome Pack is generally praised as an example of good practice.

Good Practice in Refugee/Asylum Seeker-Led Organisations

  • There are a number of examples of mutual support organisations, which are led by refugees and asylum seekers, in both the housing and employment fields. These are extremely important, as they place the asylum seekers in 'control'.

Good Practice in Education

  • Examples of good practice from Glasgow include the development of bi-lingual support in schools, the role of schools in community relations and the promotion of positive messages by schools. Education for adult asylum seekers was also praised, including the Bridging the Gap project and other English language classes. The advice on accreditation and guidance on careers offered by the Scottish Refugee Council was also highlighted as good practice.

Good Practice in Health

  • Examples of good practice include the good work done by local GPs in Glasgow, the development of medical screening for asylum seekers by the Primary Health Care Trust and the sensitive and important work carried out by mental health workers in the area.

Good Practice in the Police

  • The police were seen as demonstrating good practice in the use of interpreters and in the appointment of specialist officers to work with asylum seekers. The willingness of police to accept third party reporting was also seen as good practice.

Good Practice in Communities

  • Examples of good practice in community relations include the automatic assumption that asylum seekers are part of the client group for community services. The work of the churches, such as Castlemilk Churches Together demonstrate good practice. Development of local festivals such as the North Glasgow International Festival were also quotes as good examples of ways to bring communities together.

Good Practice in 'Move-On'

  • The Bridges Project, which is aimed at preparing asylum seekers and refugees for the return to work, is quoted as a model of good practice in the development of approaches to support 'move-on'.