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Building bridges: local responses to the resettlement of asylum seekers


New research reveals the positive role of local people and groups in promoting the integration of asylum seekers in Glasgow. As birth rates decline and the population ages in Scotland, refugees could bring significant benefits to Scottish society in the future. To promote their future participation in Scottish society, it is vital that appropriate support services are in place.

Around 10,000 asylum seekers of more than 70 different nationalities have been resettled in Glasgow since a national dispersal policy was implemented in April 2000. “In the early days, the media tended to focus on the problems associated with dispersal. This report tells another story”, explains Dr Karen Wren, from the University of Glasgow. “It shows that despite the racism experienced by some asylum seekers in Glasgow, there is another face to Scottish society which has sought to embrace values of social justice which extend beyond the limits of local communities in the city, and beyond the borders of the UK.”

The research has been carried out by Dr Karen Wren at the Scottish Centre for Research on Social Justice (SCRSJ) led by the Department of Urban Studies at the University of Glasgow in partnership with the Arkleton Centre for Rural Development Research at the University of Aberdeen.

The report examines the work of the ten asylum seeker resettlement and integration networks in Glasgow. It documents the dedication and hard work of professionals and local volunteers in supporting asylum seekers dispersed to Glasgow. The networks are area-based multi-agency partnerships set up to facilitate the role of the voluntary sector in supporting asylum seekers in localities where they have been dispersed. The networks have promoted dialogue between the agencies providing support services for asylum seekers and have also assisted the involvement of local communities in activities designed to promote social interaction and integration.

Dr Karen Wren explains: “The networks have had to respond very rapidly to changing local needs associated with the arrival of several thousand asylum seekers in Glasgow, in a context where communities had not been prepared for their arrival. This preliminary research outlines the work of the networks, their future support needs and concerns in relation to their work with asylum seekers. It effectively constitutes a ‘snapshot in time’ on rapidly changing territory. It also emphasises that the sustainability of the networks as a viable form of local support for asylum seekers will depend on continuing support and funding.”

The work of the networks was found to be highly responsive to the needs of asylum seekers, and the local church drop-ins in particular have played a key role in providing a very personalised and humane quality of service.

UK immigration and asylum policy was experienced by service providers as disjointed and lacking in coherence. Service providers felt that their work was hampered by a punitive Westminster policy framework, while the Scottish Executive was perceived to be promoting integration work in a more positive way. Key issues of concern raised by the participants in this respect were the removal of the right to work for asylum seekers in 2002 and the detention of asylum seekers at Dungavel. Many participants expressed a need for more devolution of some aspects of immigration and asylum policy.

Jenny Murray | alfa
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