Scottish refugee sector stakeholders met with Migrant Help

SRC Sept 2010  c. Jenny Wicks  ongoing use   0001  2
Phone translation

Migrant Help, the charity now delivering new asylum advice services on behalf of the Home Office, has pledged to work hard to ensure that they meet the needs of asylum seekers who need support

At a stakeholder meeting called by Scottish Refugee Council, and also attended by Home Office representatives, Migrant Help’s managers admitted that they had been ‘overwhelmed’ by an unanticipated number of calls to its helpline last week.

The charity, which is now providing advice services across the UK on behalf of the Home Office, took over the service on 1 April. It says it has since doubled its number of phone line advisers and said it hoped that those trying to get through unsuccessfully last week had noticed the difference in recent days.

The meeting, called by Scottish Refugee Council in response to a huge demand for information about the new service, was the first opportunity for many refugees and organisations to put questions to both the charity and the Home Office about the revised contract. Full notes of the meeting can be found here: SRC Asylum Services Stakeholder Meeting Note 9 4 14

The new services

Called Asylum Help, the advice based in Glasgow is 33 Petershill Drive, on the 29 floor of the building largely reserved for initial accommodation for asylum seekers. Advisors based there, many of whom were recently employed by Scottish Refugee Council, will see asylum seekers who have been newly accommodated in Glasgow - or dispersed - by the Home Office on an appointment basis.

They will then be given the helpline number and website address, where information is available in 15 different languages. The phone line will be open from 8.30am until 7pm and an out-of-hours service will also be available. The charity claims it is free from all mobiles, though some people trying to access it say some networks charge for calls.

Answering questions

Susan Fawcus, Director of Operations for Migrant Help, said the aim is for asylum seekers assessed to be ‘vulnerable’ to be offered outreach appointments though the charity is still consulting on how they will offer this ‘demand led’ service. No drop-in services will be offered. 

She added: “I appreciate that the single biggest concern of many people is that there will be no ‘One Stop Service’ where people know where they can go for help.

“But there is a lot of evidence that many people are happy to access telephone help given the number of people calling our helpline, that didn’t seem to be a problem.

“We won’t be able to commit to what our outreach service will be until the need has been assessed. But we will turn ourselves inside out to meet the needs of vulnerable clients in distress. This service needs to be creative and flexible in its approach and it has to be responsive. “

Ms Fawcus confirmed the charity will have a limited hardship fund, which may be assessed by vulnerable clients and agreed to meet with Refugee Survival Trust and Positive Action in Housing to discuss how to administer grants to destitute people in the asylum system.

Keeping a close eye

John Wilkes, Chief Executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, said: “We felt it was important to call this meeting today to bring together stakeholders in the refugee sector in Scotland, many of whom we have worked closely with over the last 13 years of delivering the Home Office’s previous asylum service contracts. 

“We were delighted that so many people, with so much to contribute came along and we hope that this will help inform Migrant Help’s service and make it the best that it can be. 

“Scottish Refugee Council is heavily vested in ensuring that asylum seekers get the best possible advice and support and have been working hard to ensure as smooth a transition as possible. But we will be monitoring the service closely and raising any issues with the Home Office where necessary.”

Representatives from the Home Office confirmed that the £7m UK-wide contract was not a saving in real terms, but claimed that its terms offered better ‘value for money.’

Work forward

Scottish Refugee Council will continue to run a range of face-to-face services, projects and core activities including our Refugee Integration Service, the Scottish Guardianship Service and the new Family Key Work Service. We also continue our arts and heritage work, our work with refugee community groups, as well as our media, advocacy, policy and campaigning work.

We seek to develop other appropriate services for people in the asylum process where we can find suitable funding and resources.