New Scots: integrating refugees in Scotland's communities 2014-2017 final report

Report on collaborative work which has taken place under the New Scots refugee integration strategy from 2014 to 2017.

Needs of Dispersed Asylum Seekers

Key Achievements:

  • The New Scots Asylum Dispersal thematic group secured commitment from a wide range of partners to meet regularly and seek to address challenges.
  • The development of an Asylum Seeker Journey document mapped the services and support an asylum seeker needs to access during the application process. This identified pressure points in the current system to help inform action.
  • Work has continued throughout New Scots to collate best practice from both Glasgow and the UK as a whole, to inform the work of partners.

Policy Context

Asylum and immigration matters are reserved to the UK Government and are handled by the Home Office. The majority of people who apply for asylum in the UK arrive with few possessions. A minority have sufficient means to support themselves while their claim for protection is assessed.

The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 sets out a duty for the Home Office to provide asylum seekers with financial support and housing if they have nowhere else to stay while their claim is assessed. The 1999 Act established a system of asylum dispersal whereby asylum seekers are housed in different parts of the UK on a no-choice basis. The original intention of this policy was to ease pressure on housing in the South East of England, where the majority of asylum seekers arrive to the UK.

To date Glasgow has been the only asylum dispersal area in Scotland, although a small number of people who do not require housing live in other local authority areas across Scotland while their asylum claims are being processed. Services in Glasgow have adapted well to the needs of refugees and asylum seekers with specialist services and expertise developing. Glasgow has also benefited from increased cultural diversity and more stable demographics.

In the past, Glasgow City Council, along with two partner organisations, provided accommodation for asylum seekers in the city. In 2012 the Home Office granted contracts to three private sector companies to provide accommodation and associated services across the UK. The contract for Scotland and Northern Ireland was awarded to Serco, an international service company, which in turn subcontracted property services to Orchard and Shipman. This subcontracting arrangement ceased in December 2016. The contract allows for accommodation to be provided in Scotland, not just in Glasgow. However Serco is required to consult with COSLA as Scotland's Strategic Migration Partnership and relevant local authorities about any proposed widening of dispersal to new areas. Ultimate authority over where asylum seekers are to be accommodated lies with the Home Secretary.

Although asylum policy is reserved to the UK Government (including accommodation arrangements, financial support and assessment of claims for asylum), the Scottish Government has taken the position that integration should begin from day one and not just when refugee status is granted. Devolved policy and services should therefore support asylum seekers as far as possible, as well as refugees, to integrate into our communities. This approach also reflects the Scottish Government's wider commitment to promote equality of opportunity and social justice for everyone living in Scotland.

Strategy Outcomes

In 2014 the New Scots strategy set out three outcomes for Asylum Dispersal:

1. The integration needs of asylum seekers are met as far as possible throughout the asylum process and as a result they are welcomed into Scotland's communities.

2. Asylum seekers arriving in Scotland are supported to fully understand their rights and entitlements, access services and legal support and, as a result receive the support that they require during the asylum process.

3. The long-term strategic planning of the dispersal of asylum seekers in Scotland is informed by the needs of asylum seekers and local communities leading to an increase in integration.

1. Meeting integration needs and welcoming asylum seekers

The inclusion of an Asylum Dispersal thematic group within New Scots demonstrated recognition of the particular challenges facing asylum seekers and enabled the group to tackle issues that would not otherwise be addressed if a narrower definition of refugee applied to the strategy.

The diverse representation of the group has importantly included organisations directly involved in providing Home Office contracted support (Serco and Migrant Help) as well as statutory service providers and third sector organisations which specialise in advocacy or support services for asylum seekers. One of the key successes of the group has been the commitment shown by a wide range of partners to both attend the quarterly meetings and take on various tasks that have been agreed.

A particular focus of the group's work has been undertaking an exercise to map the asylum seeker journey. This has been a useful means of identifying pressure points in the current system and has included consideration of the referral process between the accommodation provider and key service providers to ensure that appropriate procedures are in place to direct asylum seekers to the support and services they need. Anecdotal evidence gathered by the Refugee Womens' Strategy Group would suggest that asylum accommodation standards and services have improved somewhat over the later part of 2016 and it is hoped that the work of the group has played a part in this regard.

Case Study

Asylum Journey Mapping

The asylum process is complex. Asylum seekers are often adapting to an unfamiliar country with a different culture, rules and public services to their home country. They may not speak English. They may have had to leave their home in a hurry. They may have experienced violence, persecution or trauma. They may have lost family and friends and could be separated from everyone they know.

There are many different sources of support and information for people seeking asylum and a variety of agencies and services are involved at different stages of the process. Changes to Home Office advice and support contracts in 2014 have given rise to particular pressure points.

The Asylum Dispersal Thematic Group decided to map the legal and support journey for someone seeking asylum in Scotland. To highlight the different agencies and services involved and identify the pressure points for men, women and young children in the process.

This task proved challenging. There are many variables and complexities in the asylum process and support which is available (or not available) to different people depending on their circumstances. The mapping was led by the Scottish Refugee Council and Migrant Help, with contribution from all agencies and community organisations represented on the group.

A comprehensive document has now been developed. The group will not only use this to address some of the key pressure points identified, but also to share learning and experience from Glasgow with other areas considering asylum dispersal in the future.

2. Asylum seekers understand their rights and entitlement and can access services and support

A review of the information provided to new asylum seekers when they arrive in Scotland was undertaken, informed by the expertise of organisations involved in supporting asylum seekers. The thematic group then focused on providing input to both Orchard and Shipman and Migrant Help as those organisations sought to develop new guidance documents, including welcome packs. Further to this input, Orchard and Shipman launched a new welcome pack in Autumn 2016. This is now available in a number of languages other than English, which has been welcomed by the group. [22]

In 2016, a Guide to Scots Law [23] was produced by HND Legal Services students at New College Lanarkshire, in collaboration with Police Scotland and the Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Service ( COPFS). The guide has been made available in 11 languages and is being provided to newly arrived asylum seekers as well as refugees. See case study in the Communities and Social Connections Chapter for more details.

Appropriate legal representation is important for anyone applying for asylum. Expertise in asylum and immigration law practice in the context of Scots law has developed in a number of law firms, particularly in the Glasgow area. Anyone requiring representation for a case at the Immigration and Asylum Tribunal can access legal aid support in the form of 'Assistance by Way of Representation' ( ABWOR). In most cases only a means test is applied and applications from asylum seekers will be passed on merits.

The Legal Services Agency has established a Women and Young Persons' Department to focus on four specialist projects to improve the lives of women, children and young people in Scotland affected by violence, with a particular focus on refugees. Through a combination of policy, research, training and providing advice the department works to raise awareness and provide a practitioner and legal insight into issues such as human trafficking, violence against women, mental health and issues affecting refugee children. The Legal Services Agency has been working collaboratively, at a local, national and international level in order to achieve outcomes. [24]

The Asylum Dispersal thematic group has maintained an active interest in the Family Keywork Pilot [25] and the Peer Education Model [26] of support for refugees and asylum seekers. Both of these projects aim to improve the quality of information and services received by asylum seekers as they navigate the complexities of the asylum system and life in the UK more generally. The Peer Educator Model is a means of enhancing asylum seekers' knowledge and understanding of entitlements and services by building skills capacity for peers - other refugees or asylum seekers with first-hand experience - to provide support and advice on accessing services and navigating processes.

Case Study

Family Keywork Service

The asylum system is complex and challenging for everyone. Families have particular rights and face specific challenges. There are also particular barriers for pregnant women, parents and children, whose different needs and experiences can go unrecognised.

The asylum process often focuses on the 'main applicant'. 70 to 80% of main applicants are men but 60 to 70% of dependents are women and girls. Entitlements for dependents often stem from the main applicant and the rights and support needs of other family members, including children, can be overlooked.

To address this, Scottish Refugee Council developed a holistic support service model for families. The Family Keywork Service provides information, advice, advocacy and social integration support to families with young children in Scotland.

A named keyworker is allocated to each family and a holistic needs assessment is carried out using a 'whole family approach' to take account of the needs of all family members. The service model takes an early intervention approach and is situated in the Scottish Government's Getting it Right for Every Child ( GIRFEC) framework, guided by SHANARRI wellbeing indicators.

As well as building confidence and resilience within individual families, the service also seeks to develop partnerships and influence mainstream services to better meet the needs of asylum seeking families.

It was a good experience working with the Family Keywork Service, discussing issues and seeking guidance face to face, with someone who was working with you 100%... I don't talk openly with anyone, except a dedicated keyworker, but I can talk openly and seek guidance."

Family Keywork Service user

Family Keywork Service Delivery [27]

Family Keywork Service Delivery

3. Long term strategic planning of asylum dispersal in Scotland

Throughout the New Scots timeframe the Asylum Dispersal thematic group has sought to identify examples of good practice and lessons that have been learned from experience across Scotland and the UK, to improve future practice. A directory of good practice is being developed to support dispersal, not only in Glasgow but in any new dispersal areas that may open up in future.

The thematic group is prepared to provide support to any new dispersal areas. This would include work with local authorities and their community planning partners, asylum seekers and receiving communities to ensure that all are appropriately informed and integration needs are met.

The group has also sought to provide input to the Home Office as they develop a new model of asylum support and accommodation which is expected to be introduced when the current contracts end in 2019. A discussion session that considered the current system and what changes colleagues would wish to see going forward took place in December 2016 and it is hoped that this will provide a baseline for future work in this regard.

Continuing Challenges

The thematic group recognises that it has struggled to evidence the impact that its work has had on asylum seekers. As such, work is ongoing to consider indicators that might illustrate whether or not asylum seekers have experienced improved outcomes. Further work is also required to foster more meaningful involvement from asylum seekers and refugees. Some progress has been made in this regard, and refugee representatives have welcomed more facilitative styles of chairing of formal meetings which have offered more space for them to contribute to discussions.

The Refugee Womens' Strategy Group ( RWSG) has continued to raise concerns about destitute women at the end of the asylum process, who are at particular risk of exploitation and for whom homeless shelters in Glasgow are unsuitable. While refused asylum seeking women, and men, have no recourse to public funds, the RWSG has called for this particular issue to be addressed so that these vulnerable women are no longer at risk.

At an operational level, a lack of budget and personnel resource in the organisations represented on the group has meant that activities are heavily reliant on the good will of individuals. Additional pressures associated with the Syrian Resettlement Programme have exacerbated these challenges.

Women’s Interfaith Event
Women's Interfaith Event
Photo by Parisa Baramakeh


Email: Scotland's Refugee Strategy

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