By Noura Chalati
Background to “New Scots: Refugee Integration Strategy 2018 to 2022”
In January 2018, the Scottish Government published “New Scots: Refugee Integration Strategy 2018 to 2022”, a refugee integration strategy which sets out an approach to support the vision of a welcoming Scotland. This new strategy builds on the experience and developments of the previous three-year strategy from 2014-2017, and determines the integration process of and support for refugee communities and asylum seekers in Scotland. The definition of refugees and asylum seekers employed in the strategy is the one set out by the 1951 UN Convention: a person, who due to war, violence or persecution has been forced to flee his or her country, is entitled to the same social and economic rights as a UK citizen once his or her refugee status has been granted. A person who has asked and is waiting for this refugee status to be recognised by a government is an asylum seeker.
Aims of the New Strategy
New Scots 2 encompasses seven themes based on the evaluation of the previous strategy: Needs of Asylum Seekers, Employability and Welfare Rights, Housing, Education, Language, Health and Wellbeing, Communities, Culture and Social Connections. Through these seven themes the four main goals of the strategy should be achieved:
“Refugees and asylum seekers live in safe, welcoming and cohesive communities and are able to build diverse relationships and connections.
Refugees and asylum seekers understand their rights, responsibilities and entitlements and are able to exercise them to pursue full and independent lives.
Refugees and asylum seekers are able to access well-coordinated services, which recognise and meet their rights and needs.
Policy, strategic planning and legislation, which have an impact on refugees and asylum seekers, are informed by their rights, needs and aspirations.”
In an evaluative report compiled by the Scottish authorities one year after the launching of New Scots 2, the major achievements and challenges of the strategy were outlined. This report sets out that asylum seeking students, who struggled to access courses or continue their studies because of changes to immigration bail, have been supported through significant lobbying. Subsequently, Home Office guidelines have been reissued and adapted so that study restrictions should no longer be routinely applied to these students.
Another issue identified by the report was the lack of support for those whose asylum claims were refused and who were no longer entitled to Home Office support. Typically, people will face eviction at this point because the Government will no longer fund housing for them, as was seen in 2018, when the asylum accommodation contractor, Serco, attempted to evict failed asylum seekers from their accommodation. This case is subject to an ongoing appeal for potential human rights violations, and the wider issue that this implies given consideration in the framework of New Scots 2, which will fund support and advocacy to those facing eviction.
Additionally, a new online learning module to help education staff to improve their professional knowledge and confidence was developed, which not only focuses on learning English, but also incorporates and values bilingualism. New Scots 2 specifically highlights the importance of language for integration and this is a first attempt to address this.
Limitations of the Legal Coverage of New Scots 2
However, a major limitation of New Scots 2 is that it only covers devolved aspects of refugee integration, which means only those that the Scottish Government can handle, such as healthcare and education, but also legal aid and housing (excluding asylum accommodation). But reserved issues are out with the remit of the Scottish Government, Scottish local authorities and other Scottish organisations. The reason for this is that asylum policy is a matter reserved to the UK Government under the Scotland Act 1998 and, as such, it is dealt with by the Home Office. This includes the process of considering applications for asylum, the provision of asylum support and accommodation and management of refugee resettlement programmes. The Scottish Government, therefore, cannot make laws or decisions affecting these issues that fall under the UK Government’s responsibility. These challenges were highlighted in the report published after the first year of the implementation. Among these, asylum accommodation, support provision, immigration detention, and decisions on applications for leave to enter the UK (including family reunion), to remain and citizenship feature prominently. But also, the bureaucratic and time-consuming application process for asylum generally is an issue out of reach for the Scottish authorities. It is stated that this has a direct impact on the integration process of refugees and asylum seekers.
Furthermore, a major aim of New Scots 2 is to incorporate and involve refugee and community voices into the process of the strategy’s implementation, which has proved difficult due to time constraints faced by refugees, asylum seekers and community members, their lacking financial means, language barriers and an inability to confidently plan for their future, as asylum seekers live with constant uncertainty concerning their status every day.
Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Minors
Especially affected by those limitations with regard to reserved issues are children. Despite the intention to stress the special needs of unaccompanied asylum-seeking or refugee children within the New Scots 2 strategy, these minors often face a lot of difficulties that are not necessarily the result of deliberate political mismanagement on the side of the Scottish Government. Among these are the prospect of possibly not being reunited with their parents and siblings, but instead living in care systems which are usually run by local councils and not suited for the long-term needs of the children. The UK policy on family reunion for separated children is the most restrictive one in the EU and does not allow unaccompanied refugee children to sponsor applications for family members, which would enable them to receive family reunion visas which are issued free of charge.
The Government has justified this position on the basis that more generous and less bureaucratic rules might act as an incentive for asylum seekers to come to the UK and maybe put children at greater risk of trafficking, thereby neglecting the equally distressing and inhumane condition they place refugee and asylum-seeking children in. The New Scots 2 strategy is not able to address this issue, and Scotland has a relatively low incidence of family reunification, although overall offering comprehensive support for refugees and asylum seekers.
The rights-based approach of New Scots 1 and 2, and its inclusion of the community of asylum seekers and refugees into the process and structure of the strategy, is a promising step towards the right direction, facilitating dialogue, a welcoming, inclusive society and the necessary support for refugees and asylum seekers. Additionally, the transparent engagement process and events, including the evaluation of New Scots 2 objectives and the identification of actions to be taken in the future, might hopefully lead to positive outcomes and demand-oriented policies.
Nevertheless, there is no doubt that there is still a long way to go for a non-bureaucratic asylum process, centered on the human individual, as well as a simplified integration process without racism, language barriers and financial obstacles for refugees and asylum seekers to settle in the new host society.
Scottish Government (2018), New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy 2018 – 2022. Accessed at: http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0053/00530097.pdf.
Scottish Government (2018), New Scots 2 Engagement analysis of the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy 2018 to 2022. Accessed at: http://www.migrationscotland.org.uk/our-priorities/current-work/refugee-integration.
Scottish Refugee Council (2011), Policy briefing - Refugee Family Reunion and Unaccompanied Minors. Accessed at: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=2ahUKEwiHnvXQx5biAhUjUxUIHSjaDQEQFjAAegQIBBAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.scottishrefugeecouncil.org.uk%2Fassets%2F0000%2F5194%2FAppendix_1_-_Refugee_Family_Reunion_and_Unaccompanied_Minors_-_June_2012__.pdf&usg=AOvVaw3Lz7H8L7cuJaAOOg08Dt6b.
House of Commons Library (2018), Briefing Paper Number 07511 – The UK’s refugee family reunion rules: striking the right balance? Accessed at: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjgz62kyJbiAhXtTRUIHbYMBlYQFjABegQIChAF&url=https%3A%2F%2Fresearchbriefings.parliament.uk%2FResearchBriefing%2FSummary%2FCBP-7511&usg=AOvVaw18kOd8XSqf3pCalBg4n3Z-.
Alison B. Strang, Helen Baillot & Elodie Mignard (2018) ‘I want to participate.’ transition experiences of new refugees in Glasgow, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 44:2, 197-214, DOI: 10.1080/1369183X.2017.1341717