Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Putting Refugees at the Centre of Resettlement in the UK

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Putting Refugees at the Centre of Resettlement in the UK

Article excerpt

There are growing numbers of refugees in the UK who have been through a resettlement programme. New research in four UK cities highlights opportunities to incorporate the refugees' expertise into programme design.

The United Kingdom's contribution to refugee resettlement has increased substantially in recent years, although from a relatively low base. This contrasts sharply with the highly restrictionist stance of virtually every other aspect of UK policy towards migrants and refugees, including asylum. In 2015, the government expanded the quota of 750 refugees arriving under the established Gateway Protection Programme (GPP) with an additional 4,000 refugees a year under the Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement (VPR) Programme. There are also a number of other programmes, mostly focused on resettling or relocating vulnerable children.

The first refugees resettled through the GPP arrived in 2004. There are now several thousand people in the UK who have been through a refugee resettlement programme, many of them now with long experience of life in the UK. The recent expansion of VPR, the introduction of new programmes and the continued refinement of the GPP provide a real opportunity to incorporate refugees' own expertise into the development of new programmes. There is no evidence at the moment that the UK government is considering this in any systematic way, though there are plenty of examples of how effective it can be, such as the SHARE Network's Resettlement Ambassador Programme.1

Our research project, entitled Optimising Refugee Resettlement in the UK, set out to put refugees at the centre of resettlement research. The research involved 11 peer researchers - that is, resettled refugees - from the cities where the research would happen. At three intervals (one year apart) from 2014 to 2016, using a survey and interviews they investigated determinants of well-being for resettled refugees who had arrived in the UK before 2010.

280 resettled refugees were involved, 180 of whom completed all three surveys, giving detailed longitudinal information on the well-being of refugees resettled to the UK, some time after their arrival.2 Eight of the peer group researchers attended the final conference on the research findings. Four of the themes that emerged were:

* difficulties with education and employment

* the central importance of English language ability

* the role of pre-departure orientation

* the interaction between refugee status, citizenship and belonging.

Education and employment

Charles, a 28-year-old originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), described his achievements in getting a job and subsequently receiving a degree:

"I applied for a cleaning job. Then I did an interview. I had a suit, you know. Then they said, right off, that I don't have experience - for a cleaning job! Then I said [to myself] this will be the first and the last time that I will apply for this type of job. I was really upset. ... I applied for another job. I managed to get a social care job. I got a job as a support worker. That was in September 2010. We arrived in March, and six months later I was working. Actually, I was the first person in our group to work."

"The only advantage really which I thought about getting to Europe [for] was education. I was saying, you know, this is a great opportunity. African [government] ministers, they send their kids to Europe to study. So I had this opportunity to go and study. All I had in my mind was education [but] no one really wanted to know what you wanted to do in terms of education, or in terms of your future career. That was not part of the package, because, you know, they see refugees as one big category."

Charles was able to overcome the barriers to education, eventually getting a degree. Nevertheless, he was concerned that the channelling of refugees into particular sectors has serious long-term implications:

"We have a problem which really hurts me a lot. …

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