Social Justice Research Programme
Asylum Seekers in Scotland
Aileen Barclay, Alison Bowes, Iain Ferguson, Duncan Sim and Maggie Valenti with the assistance of Soraya Fard and Sherry MacIntosh
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This research was commissioned by the Scottish Executive to explore the effects of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 on asylum seekers and devolved services in Scotland. It was conducted in parallel with research in England carried out for the Home Office by a team from Oxford Brookes University.
- Good practice in service provision was identified based on multi-agency working, a holistic approach, cultural sensitivity and good communication. Examples of good practice include Glasgow City Council's Welcome Pack and the work of many voluntary sector projects. More effective mechanisms need to be developed to share and learn from this good practice.
- Community development work was shown to be important, especially to combat racism and harassment of asylum seekers and to promote integration. Good practice examples include grassroots service provision, the development of refugee-led organisations and more specific support such as befriending services. Additional resources are required to continue this process.
- Information and communication between agencies had been more effective locally than nationally. Decentralisation of NASS and greater partnership working to develop shared approaches with NASS were thought to be key to improving performance in this area.
- Quality and availability of interpreting services was seen as a central difficulty for service providers and users alike and continuing service improvement in this area is essential. Advocacy and befriending were identified as potentially providing additional support.
- The voluntary sector has played a significant role in supporting asylum seekers in Glasgow, and the special qualities of the sector such as its greater flexibility and responsiveness, need to be recognised and resourced if the sector is to work effectively
- Media strategies that can counter persistent negative coverage and promote positive images of asylum seekers were shown to be necessary, particularly in the interests of better community relations. There is a need to develop an early media response strategy and work with local press.
- Work on refugee settlement and integration was considered essential, and needs to be considered alongside plans for services for asylum seekers. This work should draw upon good practice, enabling refugees to develop services and identify specific areas of need. Resourcing of the minority ethnic voluntary sector needs to be considered within this context.
The 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act currently provides the legal basis for the dispersal of asylum seekers. It is amended by the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. Immigration and asylum are matters reserved for the Westminster Parliament.
The central aim of this study was to assess the effect of the implementation of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 on asylum seekers and devolved services in Scotland. The study also set out to identify good practice in the delivery of services.
Perspectives on Services
Service providers emphasised the 'steep learning curve' experienced in their work with dispersed asylum seekers. For some, expertise and resources were initially stretched to the limi, though over time provision was believed to have improved. Multi-agency working was identified as an area of strength. Cultural sensitivity and a holistic approach were thought essential for responsive services. Community development work was seen as key to good local relations, especially to combat racism and harassment. Problems for service providers came from the centralisation of NASS, pressure on resources, unhelpful media coverage and community relations difficulties, especially earlier in the dispersal process.
Asylum seekers' experiences mirrored the problems highlighted by service providers. They had experienced both good and bad in all the services covered, though education services generally came across as particularly good. They emphasised the vital importance of the initial advice and introductions to the various relevant agencies.
A key problem was interpreting. Lack of interpreters, or poor interpreters, made access to services, gaining correct information and getting help particularly difficult. Many thought advocacy support would also be beneficial.
There are continuing problems with racism and harassment directed at asylum seekers, whilst there are also areas where effective community development work has helped to build good relations among asylum seekers and between asylum seekers and local communities.
Community groups reiterated concerns about asylum seekers placed in deprived communities, and the need for work to promote good community relations. There was felt to be a reservoir of goodwill in many communities that could be nurtured and supported. Integration and good relations required work and investment. It was felt media activity promoted hostility towards asylum seekers.
Other Local Authorities
Although contract negotiations were not proceeding smoothly at the time of interview, the councils were learning from the experiences of others, and had identified good practice could be replicated, taking account of local circumstances. Learning involved both Scottish and wider UK experiences. The councils highlighted the community relations work which others had argued was essential, and they were also planning from the start for "move-on".
Asylum seekers attracted extensive and continuing media interest and much specific coverage of asylum seekers was negative. Agencies were working to promote positive images of asylum seekers using media strategies against continuing negative coverage.
Implications for Policy and Practice
Key implications for policy and practice have been developed on the basis of the key issues and examples of good practice emerging from this study. These include:
- More effective mechanisms need to be developed to share and learn from identified good practice.
- Effective multi-agency working should be facilitated where possible.
- All agencies need to recognise diversity, individual needs and cultural preferences when planning and delivering services.
- All agencies should aim to promote a holistic approach to service provision where appropriate.
- There is a need to incorporate community relations work into preparations for asylum seekers' arrival, into ongoing work with communities following arrival and into work to promote refugee integration.
- Resources to enable development of asylum seeker-led activities are required, particularly for smaller nationality or language groups who are dispersed widely across an area.
- Local community activities such as crèches and drop-in centres should be adequately promoted and resourced to ensure access to these services is as wide as possible.
- There is a clear need for the expansion of anti-racist training and awareness activity amongst community organisations and more widely.
Information Needs & Interpreting
- The remit of key services should be made clear so that asylum seekers know what they can/cannot expect from services.
- Greater partnership working with NASS should be pursued in order to improve information flows in this crucial area.
- Continuing service improvement in relation to interpreting is essential.
- Interpreter availability must be addressed through improved planning and resourcing of interpreting services, and issues of interpreter quality through improved training and monitoring of interpreters.
- There is a need to explore the added contribution that advocacy services can provide and to promote the development of these services where appropriate.
- Decentralisation of NASS is to be welcomed, but agencies need to work in partnership and to develop shared approaches with NASS in the future.
- Devolved services in other Scottish councils need to learn from Glasgow's experience and recognise the need to plan and resource service provision at the earliest stage in the process.
- Development and provision of devolved services in relation to refugee integration and asylum seeker dispersal should be considered in tandem wherever possible.
- The existing skills of asylum seekers and refugees and the ways in which they could contribute to work of devolved services in areas such as health need to be explored.
- The special qualities of the sector such as greater responsiveness and flexibility, need to be recognised and resourced for the sector to work effectively .
- There is a need to consider resourcing issues for mainstream and minority ethnic voluntary agencies, as well as those focusing specifically on asylum seekers
- There is a need to develop media strategies which can counter negative coverage of asylum seeker issues.
- There is a need for the promotion of positive images through the provision of factual information, awareness raising work and anti-racism strategies.
- The effectiveness of such strategies needs to be assessed and monitored.
- Work on refugee settlement and integration needs be considered at an early stage in the process, alongside plans for asylum seekers.
- The specific service needs of refugees must be addressed and equality of access to services promoted.
About the Study
The study involved a range of qualitative research methods including interviews with service providers, asylum seekers, local community organisations and three local councils in the process of negotiating contracts with NASS. Monitoring of the content of newspaper coverage was also carried out over the fieldwork period. A stakeholders' seminar was held after production of the draft final report to discuss some key research findings and inform the final report.
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