New research shows UK citizenship process failing for refugees

British Passport c. iStock
New citizens receive a British passport

We launched a new report today looking at the barriers refugees face in becoming British citizens.

Researchers from Scottish Refugee Council and Strathclyde University found that many refugees see becoming a British citizen as a great privilege.

However, although refugees want to belong and identify with Britain, they are being prevented from doing so. This runs counter to Home Secretary Theresa May’s recently stated desire for a “society where everyone participates and interacts in our national and community life, and where everyone has the opportunity to better themselves.”

The findings also come as Prime Minister David Cameron spoke about the need for a more integrated society.

Not knowing what’s next

The research argues that refugees, rather than making a positive decision to become British citizens, are being forced to do so in order to end the uncertainty they live with. Constantly changing immigration policy means many refugees fear their status could be revoked and they could be sent home to countries where they are not safe. 

Becoming British Citizens? Experiences and Opinions of Refugees Living in Scotland was produced by Strathclyde University’s Dr Emma Stewart and Scottish Refugee Council’s Gareth Mulvey.

It was based on in-depth interviews with 30 refugees living in Scotland, a third of whom have gone on to become a British citizen.

High costs of citizenship

Other findings in the research show barriers to applying for citizenship including prohibitively high costs and lack of information. It also suggests that refugees identify more with Scotland or the neighbourhood they live in than they do with the United Kingdom.

While Scottish Refugee Council welcomed the coalition government’s commitment not to proceed with Labour’s ‘earned citizenship’ plans, which included compulsory volunteering and were seen as overly bureaucratic, it feels the results of this research points to clear ways that Citizenship should be improved.

Ways to improve

Gareth Mulvey, co-author of the report and Research Officer at Scottish Refugee Council, said: “At the end of last year the UK Coalition Government rejected the idea of ‘earned citizenship’. But they have not said what they will replace this plan with.

“Our research shows clear ways to improve the current citizenship process. We’ve shown that refugees want to belong to Britain, but at the moment citizenship is not working as a means to create a set of unified values. People will struggle to feel a set of common values if they are prevented from integrating, or live in a state of fear of the future.”

Read the full report on our research pages

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