A joint report by the Refugee Council, the Scottish Refugee Council and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released last week looked at the experiences of newly recognised refugees from Eritrea in the UK
Researchers held nine focus group discussions and conducted individual interviews with Eritrean men and women who were recognised as refugees in the UK on or after 1 March 2015.
Eritreans comprise one of the largest nationality groups seeking asylum in the UK and they typically experience significant trauma either in Eritrea and/or during their journey to the UK.
Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, the UNHCR’s Representative to the UK, said that the majority of Eritreans who participated in the report said they were happy to be safe, felt welcomed in the UK, and were generally positive about their futures.
A number of problems were identified, however, including that many of the refugees faced lengthy delays in the determination of their refugee status, leaving them feeling anxious and unsettled.
After they were granted refugee status, many of the participants found they had difficulties accessing mainstream services, housing, and English language classes. Government-provided integration assistance was found to be inconsistent and inadequate, and few of the refugees were able to find work matching their skills and experience.
Participants also talked about the impact of family separation and the pain and trauma of living apart from children and spouses.
Based on the findings and solutions proposed by the participants, the report makes recommendations across six thematic areas: the 28-day ‘move on’ period; education; employment; health & wellbeing; family reunion; community cohesion & safety.
In particular, the report recommends that the UK authorities should extend the ‘move on’ period given to newly recognised refugees beyond its current 28 days. The ‘move on’ period sees asylum accommodation and subsistence support come to an end, as refugees are able to access employment and mainstream welfare benefits.
Gary Christie, Head of Policy at Scottish Refugee Council said: “This report confirms what we hear from people every day about just how hard it can be to integrate into mainstream society in the UK. At Scottish Refugee Council we provide intensive one-to-one support for people to help them through the move on period and, crucially, to help people avoid destitution at this critical time.
“But even with our support, this report illustrates that people still face very tough structural challenges. There are straightforward changes the UK government could put in place, such as extending the rigid 28 day move on period, that would make a huge difference to people’s lives and give them the best chance of integrating and building firm foundations for their lives here.”
Dr Lisa Doyle, Director of Advocacy at the Refugee Council, said: “As this research highlights, time and again refugees face problems that are the direct consequence of Government policies serving to make life more challenging for them. Problems like not knowing where their next meal is coming from, or if they will have roof over their head. At precisely the point when the Government should be doing all in its power to help and support the very people they have promised to protect, all support falls away and they are left facing the real prospect of homelessness and destitution.”
Maurice Wren, the Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, urged the Government to heed the recommendations made in the report so that those granted protection in the UK are able to rebuild their lives.