Refugee Council research, published in 2010, dispelled a number of myths. Chance or Choice? Understanding Why Asylum Seekers Come to the UK, described how, of the people they interviewed
• Over two thirds did not choose to come to the UK.
• Most only discovered they were going to the UK after leaving their country of origin.
• The primary objective for all those interviewed was reaching a place of safety.
• Around three quarters had no knowledge of welfare benefits and support before coming to the UK – most had no expectation they would be given financial support.
• 90% were working in their country of origin and very few were aware they would not be allowed to work when they arrived in the UK. Read more
Regional data is sparse and most of the published UK Border Agency figures do not include Northern Ireland as a separate category and the figures that are available are sometimes inconsistent.
Most people who flee to the UK arrive in England. When the UK adopted the policy of dispersing asylum applicants to other parts of the country, over a decade ago, N Ireland was excluded from the scheme. So, of the people who seek sanctuary in the UK, only a tiny number apply in N Ireland and this can make them particularly isolated and vulnerable. Read more
People seeking asylum are expected to submit their application at the ‘first available possibility’, which is usually deemed to be on arrival at a port or airport. This is not always possible in N Ireland because Immigration Officers are not always stationed at the ports, so it can be difficult to have an application recorded. A late claim may affect the credibility of the application and eligibility to receive financial support. Read more
The application process can be stressful. People may be scared of people in uniform, recalling traumatic events is difficult, and there is a fear of detention and return to the home country. Language difficulties may contribute to isolation for people who have lost all contact with friends and family. Read more
‘…when people flee persecution, the flight to safety is only the first part of their journey. The second stage – rebuilding life in a strange land – is equally important. Sometimes settling here can be as hard or harder than the original flight from tyranny. Integration is not about ‘fitting in’, or about refugees becoming ‘more like us’. It is, rather, about equality and inclusion, and ensuring that refugees have equal chances to live full, safe and productive lives.’
From an account of Donna Covey’s speech from the report of the Refugee Council conference, Integration: Building a life in the UK
Integration should start from the moment that people arrived and so support groups would also like people who are seeking asylum to be allowed to work. The stress and poverty of the early stages in the process add to a sense of isolation, but groups such as NICRAS advise people, try to provide opportunities to volunteer and organise social and recreational events. Read more