Statutory service needed to help refugees build lives in Scotland

Holistic Integration Report  Front Cover June 2016
Holistic Integration Report June 2016

People fleeing conflict, torture and terror must be given extensive help and support, as well as time to find their feet, if they are to rebuild their lives in Scotland successfully – and a programme designed to do just that shows how this can work, a new report has found. 

The report, produced by Queen Margaret University, examines the work of Scotland’s Holistic Integration Service, a partnership programme led by Scottish Refugee Council. 

You can download the full report or the executive summary.

The report calls for refugees to have the right to access well-resourced, statutory integration support. Despite great resilience and determination to integrate into Scottish society, new refugees continue to live lives characterised by insecurity and poverty after receiving the right to live and work in the UK, according to the report. 

The findings confirm that the 28 days provided for by the Home Office to enable refugees to ‘move on’ from asylum support and accommodation are inadequate. Difficulties accessing benefits, including ongoing problems in the allocation of National Insurance Numbers and the processing of benefits claims, continue to leave people at risk of destitution after they have leave to remain.  

High proportions of new refugees experience homelessness in Scotland. Twelve per cent were unable to access temporary accommodation when they presented as homeless and were advised instead to ‘stay with friends’, an option not always available to people who have recently arrived in Scotland.  

Despite being strongly motivated to work and contribute to society, New Scots face many obstacles in their attempts to secure jobs and learn English. Just 9 per cent of people recently granted refugee status are in work one year after receiving a positive decision from the Home Office on their asylum claim.   

Refugees interviewed by researchers spoke of struggling to balance long-term career goals with the short-term need to learn English and gain work experience in Scotland.  

Although the majority of refugees arrive in Scotland without family members, people reported that they had frequent contact with relatives and friends.  These social connections, and positive views of the welcome offered by Scottish residents, were strong motivating factors for people to remain in Scotland after being granted leave to remain.  However people were keen to increase their opportunities to meet with other Scots and participate in the community.  

New Scots from some communities, particularly those joining settled communities from their home countries in Scotland, were able to use their social connections to find job opportunities. Many people spoke of feeling uncomfortable depending on benefits, and all planned to be self-sufficient in future, including several who were planning to set up their own businesses in Scotland. 

The report shows the resilience of new refugees but also the barriers they continue to face. These barriers can be addressed by improving access to rights, promoting social connections and systems improvements by statutory services.  Models of peer education and empowerment developed under the auspices of the Holistic Integration Service provide examples of ways in which refugees themselves can use their own self-agency to build independent and fulfilling lives in Scotland.

Scottish Government Minister for Employability and Training Jamie Hepburn MSP is launching the report today, Monday 27 June. He said:

“The Holistic Integration Service provides an invaluable service for refugees. Its integration work is an example to the rest of the UK and indeed the world. I would like to thank Scottish Refugee Council, its partners and all the refugees who have contributed to the report.  

“We will continue to do all we can, on all fronts and not just employability, to support the integration of refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland, no matter how they arrived. I am very proud to work in partnership with Scottish Refugee Council and other organisations in this endeavour.” 

Scottish Refugee Council head of refugee services Wafa Shaheen said: 

“So many of the people we work with are desperate to get back into employment or to set up independent businesses. It is very frustrating to see people prevented from doing this because they are lost and bewildered in a new, complex system. Refugees need and deserve professional advice and advocacy at this point in their lives to help them overcome these hurdles and to help them fulfill their potential in Scotland as New Scots.

“Our service provides people with practical support and acts as a bridge to Scottish society. But evidence clearly shows that without our support even the most capable refugees are not able to access their rights. We believe that the model we have developed now needs to be a statutory right embedded in legislation and not left to an overburdened and overstretched voluntary sector.

“The report demonstrates Scotland’s distinctive and humane response to refugees and is a model respected elsewhere in UK. A dedicated service like this is needed now more than ever, given the current humanitarian crisis.”

Scottish Refugee Council’s report gathers evidence from around 2,000 people who have been supported by the organisation’s Holistic Integration Service over the last three years. The service supports people in all areas of their lives once they receive a positive decision on their claim for protection in the UK. 

Caseworkers help people understand and navigate housing and benefits systems as well as supporting them to build social connections, find work or education and plan for the future. 

Partners on the Holistic Integration Service were British Red Cross, Bridges Programmes, Glasgow Clyde College and Workers Educational Association Scotland.