Glasgow Refugee Asylum and Migration Network (GRAMNet)

Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland

In Search of Normality: Refugee Integration in Scotland

Guest blogger: Dr. Gareth Mulvey.

Dr. Gareth Mulvey from the Scottish Refugee Council, and recently appointed Lord Kelvin Adam Smith Fellow (Sociology) at the University of Glasgow, is just out with the report “In Search of Normality: Refugee Integration in Scotland“. Here, he shares with us some important insights from his three years of research on the subject.

A lot of people have asked me ‘what is integration’ or ‘how can you tell when someone is integrated’? You might have thought I’d be able to answer those questions having just completed a three year study of refugee integration. Unfortunately I can’t. Like all research projects I think my research has provoked as many questions as answers, which might just keep researchers in employment so it’s all to the good. But the reason I can’t answer is that there is no one answer. Refugees are individuals as well as a group, they have differences as well as commonalities. The other question I can’t answer but would love to be able to, is when does a refugee stop being a refugee? From speaking with refugees the answer appears to be a combination of when they no longer feel that they are refugees, which for some will be related to citizenship here and for some will be never, and when they are allowed to no longer feel that they are refugees in terms of how they are treated.

stop sign

The study indicates that those refugees who manage to integrate do so despite rather than because of the British Government.

This research project used surveys, interviews and workshops to try to gain as much knowledge as possible about the lives of refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland, and with it information about integration. The process of carrying out the research was fascinating, from a lively and knowledgeable advisory group, who were always pleased to develop a series of action points that only I would have to do, to presenting the final report at a busy seminar in Glasgow University in January. However, by a considerable distance the most interesting part of the project was interviewing refugees and asylum seekers about their lives here. Some had only been here a short while, and some for many years but; some were from Asia, some from Africa, many from the Middle East; there were a variety of ages, educational backgrounds, employment histories and family set-ups. The diversity was really astounding. However, the unifying parts were that they had all fled their countries of origin, had all had to deal with the asylum process and its aftermath here, and they had all given me the great privilege of looking through a small window on their diverse and complex lives.

There are too many important issues to be able to highlight findings in a short blog post. One thing that’s clear though, is that the asylum process not only affects the ability of asylum seekers to integrate while they’re in that process, it also has a number of hangover effects that deny those granted refugee status the ability to rebuild their lives here. There are also other aspects of UK Government policy that prevent integration.

To give a few examples

  • The UK Government don’t let asylum seekers work. This can lead to their skills becoming out of date, which contributes to higher levels of unemployment and underemployment. It also allows asylum seekers to be presented in the media as ‘benefit scroungers’, when the vast majority of asylum seekers would like nothing more than to be able to work and support themselves and their families.
  •  The asylum process itself has real impacts on how refugees feel about British institutions as well as on their mental health. What was formerly the United Kingdom Border Agency treats asylum seekers with suspicion, with the assumption being that those in the process are being dishonest. Disclosing traumatic experiences only to be then effectively accused of lying contributes to depression and makes those recognised as refugees less willing to engage with state institutions.
  • Refugees are now only given five-years refugee status, which means that their attempts to rebuild their lives here are often hampered by fears of what happens next and an inability to make long term plans.

These are just a few of the issues relating to the asylum process, but what they suggest is that those who do manage to integrate do so despite rather than because of the British Government. The British Government claim to support integration, or at least want it, but they do not provide any financial or institutional help. They also seem to think that refugees, and indeed other migrants, will integrate into Britain, or some amorphous set of British values. The evidence is that refugees will integrate into their locality, but support for community based projects is being severely challenged in this ‘age of austerity’. This, along with the withdrawal of employment and housing support and cuts in language support (despite claims that the ability to speak English being a key plank of integration) goes against everything we know about the importance and cost savings of early intervention.

While immigration is a reserved policy issue, many aspects of social policy are devolved to the Scottish Government. They are currently reviewing their strategy with regards to refugee integration and this research and many refugees, voluntary sector organisations, community groups and statutory authorities are feeding into this strategy. Hopefully what emerges will help refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland as well as the communities they live in. It might, just might, even show the UK Government what can be achieved with a little will, although that could be my utopianism emerging from practical experiences.

As for me, my next thing is looking at integration among diverse migrant communities in different parts of the UK. This will hopefully show what policies work and why, both in the devolved settlement and in relation to what Local Authorities can do.

You can read all of the research outputs at Scottish Refugee Council’s website

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This entry was posted on April 12, 2013 by in Blogs.
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