Responding to the challenges of dispersal
In 1999, the UK government set out its proposals to move people seeking asylum away from London and the south east. Until this time, most people seeking asylum arrived into, and claimed asylum in, those areas.
Glasgow City Council was the first local authority in the UK to sign up to dispersal. At Scottish Refugee Council, we quickly faced a 20-fold increase in our client base.
In anticipation of dispersal our headquarters were relocated from Edinburgh to Glasgow. We started to receive 250 requests for assistance every week through our new Glasgow-based One Stop advice service. By February 2001 One Stop was responding to up to 150 people every day.
With dispersal came the challenges of dealing with racism and integration. A serious blow to the dispersal scheme, and to the integration of asylum seekers in Glasgow, came in August 2001. Firsat Yildiz, 22, was fatally stabbed. He was a Turkish Kurd who had been in Glasgow just two weeks.
Following this tragic event Scottish Refugee Council was involved in setting up the Scottish Refugee Integration Forum. This forum developed a community response to improve life for those who had been dispersed.
The Community Development strategic plan was approved in 2001. Through refugee community organisations, refugees and asylum seekers support each other. And they have a voice in their community as well as at local council and Scottish Government levels.
Working with women and young people
In 2001 a women’s group was set up providing practical and emotional support. In 2002, the ladies attending this group created two tapestries which were hung in the Burrell Collection and the National Museum of Scotland.
We also worked with young asylum seekers, helping them integrate into mainstream youth services. In 2002 we worked with other organisations to ensure they understood the particular needs of young refugees.
Responding to policy
Lobbying for a fair and just asylum system has long been a vital part of our work. Since dispersal, the UK government has been getting increasingly tough on those seeking asylum.
For example, in 2003 Section 55 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act came into effect. This stated how much time people had to claim asylum after their entry into the UK. As a result many asylum seekers were left destitute if they had not managed to make their claim on time.
We supported legal challenges to this policy. Consequently the courts ruled that Section 55 breached human rights, and thousands of families who would otherwise have been left destitute were able to access support.
Through our Emergency Accommodation team, we also offered practical support to those affected by Section 55. One lady who had fled from Uganda and then ended up sleeping rough in Glasgow said:
When I arrived at the Scottish Refugee Council, I felt alive again. The people there were so nice to me.
Read our annual reviews to learn more about our work from 2005 until the present.