Refugees find ‘asylum hangover’ is bad for their health

The results of the three-year research project, released today by Scottish Refugee Council,  highlight the way in which people seeking safety in Scotland find their physical and mental health deteriorates as a result of the asylum process.

In Search of Normality: Refugee Integration in Scotland, surveyed almost 300 refugees and people seeking asylum who had settled in Scotland. In interviews respondents talked about the negative effect of UK Border Agency’s ‘culture of disbelief’ and the way in which this perception has a negative effect on health.

They also highlighted the social isolation and feelings of worthlessness caused by the inability to work while in the asylum system. The research found that the fact they had been out of the job market while in the asylum process impacted on people’s ability to work once they gained refugee status.

 Desire to contribute

Though most were extremely motivated, with a high level of skills, experience and qualifications, just 20 per cent of refugees surveyed were in employment.

Housing issues, including bad conditions such as damp and over-crowding also impacted on mental health, although positive relationships with neighbours and in the community improved well-being.

Poverty was a contributing factor with over two thirds of asylum seekers and refugees saying they found it ‘difficult’ or ‘very difficult’ to manage on their existing household income. 

 “The psychological impact of the asylum process has considerable hangover effects." Gareth Mulvey, Scottish Refugee Council

These included people living on basic asylum support, which is just 54 per cent of income support, those on cashless Section 4 support, and refugees, who can spend several months waiting for essential benefits and living in temporary accommodation while moving between asylum support and mainstream services once they get their status.

Gareth Mulvey, Researcher for Scottish Refugee Council, said: “The psychological impact of the asylum process has considerable hangover effects.

“In particular people talk of the ‘culture of disbelief’ that they face and how that can impact on people’s health.

“The lack of the right to work also has knock-on effects, from the way asylum seekers feel they are perceived as ‘lazy’ or ‘benefit scroungers’ to delaying their ability to start to rebuild their lives on getting refugee status.

Government intervention

“We are working with the Scottish Government to ensure that this data feeds into the development of their work on helping refugees integrate.

“However the UK Government has withdrawn from supporting refugees to integrate and continues to put barriers in their way. That is why we are calling on them to allow asylum seekers the right to work and to grant people permanent leave to remain when they are granted  Refugee Status, rather than five year leave, which leaves them still feeling insecure.”

Humza Yousaf, Minister for External Affairs and International Development, will introduce today’s launch.  He said: "It is all too easy to forget that as human beings we derive a real sense of contentment and self-worth from the most basic aspects of our lives:  a place we are happy to call home; interaction with our families, friends and wider community, and access to education. These are things that those of us living in Scotland who have not endured the asylum process often take for granted.

Fair and humane treatment

“The Scottish Government has always been clear that asylum seekers and refugees must be treated fairly and humanely and whilst they are in Scotland must be welcomed and supported.  We have always maintained that integration should take place from day one, and not just once refugee status has been awarded, as is the case in the rest of the UK.”

Aslam Ali, 43, fled Pakistan after having his throat cut by the Taliban for refusing to work for them. He was then tortured by police to ensure his family retracted their crime report. 

Though he, along with his wife and three children have now been granted refugee status, they spent nine years in the asylum system and he believes his health has been badly affected.

“We have survived but it has been extremely difficult." Aslam Ali

“We have survived but it has been extremely difficult and we have been under so much stress as we feared that we would be returned and our lives would be in danger.  The Home Office said they believed that I had been tortured, but they did not believe me when I explained I would not be safe if I returned.

“At the same time I had lots of health problems and both my wife and I were very depressed. Now we have refugee status but I have been waiting ten weeks for my benefits to start due to mistakes that the Home Office made with my paperwork.

“We have had to move to temporary accommodation, a move that neither my wife were physically or mentally able to deal with.

“Now I am just hoping we can get permanent accommodation, that I can get back to work, that life can gradually get back to normal. “

[Please note, Aslam Ali has changed his name to protect the identity of his family.]


For more information contact Karin Goodwin, Scottish Refugee Council Media Officer on 0141 223 7927/07850930418.

Notes to editors

  1. In search of normality: Refugee integration in Scotland is a longitudinal study of refugee integration. The study ran between 2009 and later 2012 and has involved questionnaires, workshops and interviews with almost 300 refugees and asylum seekers in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
  2. The UK Government has concentrated limited integration support on those who receive refugee status, and excludes asylum seekers from this support. In contrast, the Scottish Government has taken the view that integration should start on the first day of arrival in Scotland.
  3. There are currently about 2,000 asylum seekers supported in Scotland, with an estimated population of about 20,000 refugees and asylum seekers (based on 10 per cent of the UK population).
  4. Scottish Refugee Council is an independent charity which provides advice and information to men, women and children seeking asylum and refugees living in Scotland. We also campaign for fair treatment of refugees and people seeking asylum and to raise awarness of refugee issues. We administer grants from Refugee Survival Trust to destitute refugees and asylum seekers. For more information: