Professsionals say services for asylum seekers are failing


Main survey findings:

– 87 per cent of people working with asylum seekers felt
their services were under-resourced and a similar figure felt the
services were failing.

– 90 per cent had clients with mental health problems,
70 per cent had clients who had been tortured and 30 per cent had
worked with women pregnant as a result of rape.

More information on Community Care’s Right to Refuge

Analysis of findings:

New home office asylum figures appeared to show a 32 per cent
fall in the number of people applying for asylum in Britain. In the
first three months of this year 16,000 people applied for asylum
– compared to 23,000 in the previous quarter,
writes Ruth Winchester.

The figures clearly demonstrate that the crackdown on the asylum
system – and the promise of further changes to the benefit,
legal aid and appeals systems – are having the government’s
desired effect. But while the right wing press and some sections of
government are clearly delighted, Community Care has been talking
to a less vocal minority; the people who are responsible for
services for asylum seekers and refugees.

Researchers conducted in-depth interviews with more than 150
social care staff who work closely with asylum seekers and refugees
in local authorities, voluntary organisations, the National Health
Service, registered social landlords and private sector

The findings make startling reading. Sixty seven per cent agreed
that the way asylum seekers are treated by the British authorities
is racist, though 85 per cent felt that their employing
organisation was completely committed to promoting the well-being
of asylum seekers and refugees.

Promisingly, nearly half of all respondents said they thought
asylum seekers’ cultures were usually “quite well
understood”, and nearly two thirds said they “usually
knew about an asylum seeker or refugee’s

But other areas were less satisfactory. An overwhelming 87 per
cent said that more resources were needed for asylum seeker and
refugee services, and a similar number felt services fail asylum
seekers. Two thirds said they had not received enough specific
training around their needs, and 90 per cent said that more help
with language and translation was needed. Just under half felt that
asylum seeker and refugee children were not well cared for.

In national terms, despite the fact that an overwhelming 99 per
cent of the professionals working closest with asylum seekers and
refugees said they had a great deal to offer local social and
economic communities, there was strong evidence of prejudice
against them.

Sixty seven per cent of those surveyed believed that public
hostility towards asylum seekers and refugees did not affect their
ability to provide services, yet 13 per cent of respondents (or
their service) had been subjected to harrassment or attack because
they worked with this client group. Eighty five per cent felt that
not enough was being done to help refugees integrate into
communities, and a similar number felt that they were discriminated
against even when they had been granted leave to stay.

The vast majority of those surveyed – 91 per cent – thought
national politicians should be doing more to encourage
understanding of asylum seekers and refugees, while 68 per cent
felt government departments were not working cohesively to provide
them with the services they need.

In national policy terms, respondents views were clear. An
overwhelming 92 per cent felt that the detention of children should
be ended immediately, and 73 per cent disagreed with the use of
accommodation centres. Those who approved argued that they were a
source of short term accommodation, a place to provide services and
because asylum seekers were “easier to manage if kept
together”. Those who disapproved felt that asylum seekers
needed to be assimilated into communities, compared accommodation
centres to “prisons” and “ghettos” and felt
they “encouraged feelings of isolation”.

Overall, 67 per cent felt that services for asylum seekers were
failing a vulnerable group of people.
More than half of those surveyed had encountered children whose
parents had been killed in conflicts or who had disappeared. Other
common conditions were:

1. Frightened  92%
2. Lonely  92%
3. Mental health problems, eg depression, anxiety, panic
attacks  91%
4. Lacking trust    88%
5. Confused   85%
6. Suspected torture    70%
7. HIV positive   32%
8. Pregnant as a result of rape 31%
9. Limbs missing  26%
10. Blindness  17%
11. Stress / post traumatic stress   3%
12. Learning difficulties  2%
13. Sexual mutilation  1%


Alison Fenney, head of policy at the Refugee Council,

“These statistics provide an insight into the realities of
working with asylum seekers and refugees.  Though they are often
encouraging, some give cause for concern.

“For instance, given that the majority of those interviewed were
social workers or their equivalent, it is worrying that they feel
social workers are not given adequate training to help them deal
with the specific and often complex needs of asylum seekers and

“Nonetheless, the fact that 99 per cent of respondents felt that
asylum seekers and refugees have a great deal to offer local
communities demonstrates the real commitment those working in this
field have towards this vulnerable and frequently maligned and
misrepresented group.”

Leigh Daynes, of the campaign group Refugee Action,

“There are many local authorities doing an excellent job
to meet the particular needs of asylum seekers, often in spite of
the chaotic nature of the dispersal system in the past and the poor
consultation with local authorities that accompanied its
introduction.  We know that local authority consortia are
instrumental in meeting asylum seekers” needs and are key to
properly supporting and resourcing local authority staff in this

“This important new survey confirms the shocking extent to
which asylum seekers are vulnerable people in desperate need of
help. Yet it also clearly indicates what more needs to be done to
meet the language and training needs of professionals working in
the field.

The outright rejection of large-scale isolated accommodation
centres for asylum seekers is an indication of the groundswell of
support amongst professionals for the proper integration of asylum
seekers in local communities, which we warmly welcome.  We should
never forget the enormously valuable contributions refugees and
asylum seekers do and can make to local communities. Many after all
are qualified doctors, nurses and social workers who want the
opportunity to contribute.”

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