Integrate or isolate

All of us want to feel like we belong. Asylum seekers and
refugees are no different, but many are torn between their country
of origin and their new lives in the UK, especially while their
status here is in doubt. Last year’s white paper Secure Borders,
Safe Haven, which informed the Nationality, Immigration
and Asylum Act 2002, states: “Our aim is not to produce a package
into which successful asylum seekers are pushed in at one end and
out of which integrated refugees appear at the other… Our aim is
to help all refugees develop their potential and to contribute to
the cultural and economic life of the country as equal members of
society.” Fine words, but has the act improved matters?

The Home Office is committed to creating a new national strategy
for refugee integration with the National Refugee Integration
Forum, to replace the current strategy published in November 2001.
The forum is made up of representatives from local authorities,
government departments and voluntary and private sector agencies.
According to Secure Borders any integration strategy will only be
successful if it involves central and local government, local
service providers, the private and voluntary sectors, and refugee
community organisations.

The paper also covered how the government is administering its
share of the European Refugee Fund to improve integration. This
includes a 50 per cent increase, announced in November 2001, of the
challenge fund to £1m per year from April 2002 for projects
improving refugees’ access to services. The government has also
made available £350,000 each year through the Refugee
Community Development Fund for small groups working with these

Dick Williams, a regional development manager at the Refugee
Council, says the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act means
asylum seekers are treated completely differently to those granted
refugee status. “The support system for asylum seekers is very
basic and it does not allow people to engage in some of the
activities, such as work or training, that will help them integrate
in the long term.”

Devon Council asylum project manager Charlotte Selwood says in
order for asylum seekers to integrate effectively they need to feel
self-assured and in control. But those who arrive in the UK
unaided, rather than as part of an organised resettlement programme
such as the Vietnamese in the 1970s and the Bosnians in the 1990s,
are unlikely to feel this way. “They will be facing enormous
cultural barriers and will be dealing with the trauma of losing
their family, friends, home, job, possessions as well as in some
cases human rights abuses,” she says.

According to Selwood, Devon has been able to integrate asylum
seekers into its local communities without any major problems. The
council has had a contract with the National Asylum Support Service
since March 2001 to provide accommodation and support to asylum
seekers. It does not have a set number of asylum seekers to
accommodate and received 120 during its first six months. Devon
currently accommodates 70 single men from Afghanistan and Iran,
providing them with a comprehensive induction process, including
access to a GP and English classes. It also acts as a bridge
between asylum seekers and the police, health, education, the fire
services and legal representatives.

Selwood says Devon has always been open about its asylum seeker
policy with local people and the local media and it challenges any
racist or ill-informed coverage. “If local authorities are
reluctant to openly discuss what is going on with their asylum
seekers it will cause problems for them later on,” she adds.

At the other end of the spectrum, is the initial experience of
Glasgow Council. In August 2001, Kurdish asylum seeker Firsat Dag
was murdered on the Sighthill estate in Glasgow. Although a
subsequent police investigation and court case revealed he was not
killed because he was an asylum seeker, it did create problems
between local residents and asylum seekers.

Brian O’Hara, Glasgow Council’s asylum support project manager,
says the local authority accepted it had a bigger role to play in
helping asylum seekers to integrate after the incident. It
circulated a leaflet called Dispelling the Myth to areas with high
numbers of asylum seekers. It also developed a refugee resettlement
team and 15 drop-in centres, operated by the voluntary sector, for
asylum seekers to access information and advice.

Since April 2000, Glasgow has housed and supported 11,115 asylum
seekers and it now deals with more than 6,000. O’Hara recommends
informing communities about incoming asylum seekers through
residents’ associations and estate action groups rather than in
large public meetings. He has learned the hard way: “They sometimes
end up with fisticuffs and one time I had to call the police

But even when asylum seekers gain refugee status support services
are insufficient, according to Loan-Anh Nguyen, manager at Refugee
Action’s development and integration southern England team. This is
compounded by the fact that when asylum seekers become refugees
they no longer receive support from the National Asylum Support

Isolation is also a problem for refugees living outside London. She
says: “They tend not to live in the centre of towns and have to
travel far to get to services, and women often can’t obtain child

She would like the government to provide more funding for local
mainstream services, particularly English classes for refugees. She
says: “They expect refugees to integrate quickly into society but
the provision to help them do this is just not there.” This type of
provision is in place in Devon as it has move-on services for
refugees, which provide housing and other advice. But Selwood
acknowledges that not all asylum seekers and refugees will be as
fortunate. “Support for refugees can be patchy,” she says. “Not all
local authorities have dedicated asylum seeker and refugee teams
and responsibility for supporting them falls back on mainstream
social services.”

Streamlining the asylum process would also help integration,
Selwood adds. “It would reduce the waiting time for a decision and
let people get on with their lives and be a part of society more

The government should consider the consequences of adopting a
support system that deters people from coming to the UK, warns
Williams. “It should acknowledge that people’s long-term successful
integration is strongly influenced by what happens to them before
they get refugee status.”

Social care professionals can help their asylum seeker and refugee
clients integrate into the UK by involving them in discussions
about how they are going to have their needs meet, he adds.

Selwood urges councils to provide their partners with the necessary
information they require so they can provide an appropriate
service. “It is these outside agencies that make partnership
working work,” she says. “Without them the support network for
asylum seekers and the process of integration will fall

The long road to integration

In 1996 Ahmed Salim and his pregnant wife claimed asylum here with
their two young children. They had left Sudan after Salim had been
detained and tortured for his political beliefs. Initially they
were housed in emergency accommodation and supported by the London
Borough of Kensington and Chelsea for seven months before their
claim was rejected.

He appealed and in March 1999 the decision was overruled. He and
his family were granted indefinite leave to remain and in May 2002
they became British citizens. But although Salim had been a cabin
crew member for Sudan Airlines he found it hard to find employment
here and did several courses, including a masters degree in refugee
studies, as well as voluntary work, to keep motivated. He is
involved in local politics and wants to do a PhD.

For the past two years Salim has worked at the Refugee Council as a
bi-cultural worker. He says: “When you are an asylum seeker waiting
for your decision, your connection with home is stronger than with
the UK. I tell clients that as soon as they get their refugee
status they will integrate better, as I have.” 

Right to refuge – Kosovo

 Refugees from Kosova pass into Albania at Kukes in April 1999
to escape violence between Serbian and Kosovan forces and ethnic
cleansing by Serbian groups. In 1999 some 4,345 Kosovans were
accepted into the UK as refugees, while 11,465 people from the
former Yugoslav republics in total applied for asylum. By the first
quarter of 2002 this number had fallen to 580, and continues to
fall. Source for figures: The Refugee Council

“Giving good advice is joyful”

Moses Bushiri cannot live in his native Burundi because he is from
the Tutsi minority ethnic group. His family had previously fled
Burundi in 1972 when he was 10 after his father was murdered. They
lived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then Zaire) but
returned to Burundi in 1993 believing life for Tutsis would improve
under new political leaders.

When this failed to happen, Bushiri claimed asylum in the UK in
July 2001 and has lived in Cardiff ever since. He says the Welsh
people have been very welcoming. In January 2002, he was granted
exceptional leave to remain for four years.

Although he was initially supported in National Asylum Support
Service accommodation, Bushiri did not receive any particular help
when it came to integration. Frustrated by this gap in services, he
started the Central African Association in September 2001 to
provide information, support and social activities. He says: “When
you give advice to people and they feel better it is really joyful
to see them feel good again.”

Bushiri says asylum seekers and refugees could be helped to
integrate into the UK by having easier access to support
services.”In this country you have to makean effort to get help and
some people don’t have a talent for that.”

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.