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Voluntary organizations for refugees resist pressure to operate as 'shadow state' agencies

30.01.2007
New research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, highlights the tensions that face voluntary organisations between working to support refuges arriving in Britain and the rules surrounding government funding for their work.

According to Professor Nick Fyfe at Dundee University who led the project voluntary groups feel they are under considerable pressure because what is in the best interests of their clients conflicts with government policy.

There has been a vast proliferation in the past decade, of the number of voluntary organizations helping refugees and asylum seekers. The majority rely on Home Office or Local Authority funding to support aspects of their work and some feel they are being used to deliver government policy on a so-called 'shadow state' basis. It is not only less friendly to refugees than the agencies themselves would like, but may also be counter to the interests of individual migrants, according to the study.

The organisations - based within refugee communities - say there can be friction between their desire to help asylum seekers to exist in Britain, and the government's policy of subsuming people's national and cultural identity by making them give up their own citizenship in exchange for becoming British – a step which in many cases, will prevent them ever going home.

However, people who flee hardship in their own country and seek temporary refuge in Britain, are regarded by the system as 'ungrateful' if they fail to fully embrace Britishness, and their access to services is limited, the study says.

"Encouraging them to apply for British citizenship is not something these agencies think they should do," Fyfe said. "Taking British citizenship means renouncing citizenship of their own country. They are dealing with people who have a strong sense of national identity, and most of them want to go home when conditions in their own country improve. Taking up citizenship here would prevent them doing that."

Welfare benefits for asylum seekers have been significantly reduced over recent years the consequence is that people are more than ever dependent on the overburdened agencies. The study found evidence of voluntary groups actively resisting demands to do the government's bidding. Iraqi workers from one London agency helping people fleeing the horrors of the war in Iraq, told how they had refused a request to distribute leaflets telling their destitute compatriots to go back home.

At the same time, there was hostility to initiatives such as citizenship ceremonies, which were seen as window dressing to conceal the lack of any real commitment to making immigrants feel they are welcome and belong in Britain.

Annika Howard | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.esrc.ac.uk

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