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Leeds charity partners with university to stop refugees and asylum seekers being ‘treated like objects’ 

Give a Gift and York St John University researchers aim to change the blueprint for support service design.  

York St John University and Give a Gift are proud to launch the findings of a 10-month study aimed at improving the lives of refugees and asylum seekers living in the UK. The work was launched after the charity’s successful bid for a Community Research Grant from the University’s Institute for Social Justice.

Give a Gift, based in Harehills in Leeds, wanted to address their experience that refugees and asylum seekers are often seen as “objects, or passive recipients of support” rather than “active and equal members in our communities”.

From their work with forced migrants, the charity saw first-hand how they experience various forms of hostilities, discrimination and are silenced. They felt a key factor was the need to address inequalities in health and wellbeing ,with service users being asked their own views on how best to help and support them.

This was the starting point for a research project conducted as a collaboration between the charity, its service users and the Institute for Social Justice.

A series of World Cafe events were organised for researchers to gather stories and views from service users. These were conducted in Arabic, Kurdish, English and Urdu, with over a hundred people sharing responses to the following questions:

  • What has been your experience with health and social care services in the UK?
  • How has your experience as a refugee/asylum seeker in the UK affected how you feel every day? Can you tell us about any good or bad experiences?
  • What advice would you give to policymakers and service providers to better support refugees/asylum seekers in the UK?

Researchers also developed a survey to ask refugees and asylum seekers who come to Give a Gift what they think about the charity and support that they receive.

The University and Give a Gift are now inviting regional stakeholders and partners who work with refugees and asylum seekers to a report launch event. Here they will share details of their research and facilitate discussions about how service users can be better integrated in service design.

Key findings from participants include:

  • Many feel very low and depressed about a lack of support available to help them.
  • Many shared bad experiences with the immigration system, including long waits for a decision; that they cannot work; and that is it difficult to go to university.
  • Difficulties for families and children.
  • A wish to be treated with more humanity, compassion and fairness by case workers and other people.
  • A need for services to be more accessible to include those individuals who do not speak English well.
  • Participants also suggested making it easier for degrees and qualifications to be recognised in the UK and supporting individuals to develop their skills.
  • A desire for support to find accommodation after they get refugee status, so they do not end up homeless.

Rifhat Malik, Project Director: Give a Gift, said: “Working in partnership with York St John University on this research project has been a very positive experience for our charity. This partnership has allowed us to leverage academic expertise, and importantly, it has enabled our users to become involved as community researchers. The research will undoubtedly enhance our capacity to support the refugee and asylum-seeker communities.

“The insights and findings from this project will directly benefit our users by informing and improving our approach and that of other stakeholders supporting this section of the community. It will also ensure that we can provide more effective and tailored services to meet their unique needs.”

Professor Matthew Reason, Director of the Institute for Social Justice said: “How we as a society welcome and support refugees and asylum seekers is indicative of our humanity and our shared commitment to social justice.

“There is currently a lot of rhetoric about the asylum system being broken, but in thinking about how to fix it rarely are those most effected listened to with compassion.

“With this project we have been able to work with Give a Gift to collect perspectives from refugees and asylum seekers themselves which start to offer solutions that are driven by experience and understanding.”

The full report is available on the York St John University website Listening to community perspectives of forced migrants: Engaging refugees and asylum seekers in service design