ATLAS partners have worked together to develop good practice to support the social and vocational integration of asylum seekers under Round Two of the Equal programme between 2005 and 2007. The projects have been based on the premise that integration begins on the first day that an asylum seeker arrives and that a range of opportunities should be made available to each individual, adapted to suit their needs, as they make the transition from arrival to decision. The individual testimonies in the case studies provide examples of how the various projects have assisted with this, supporting asylum seekers to become active in their new communities, to identify their own goals and to reach their potential.
As asylum seekers are not permitted to work, it is difficult to measure the hard outcomes of ATLAS, as counting numbers taking up employment is not appropriate. However, partners have collected evidence to show considerable distance travelled in relation to a number of ‘soft indicators’ that relate to employability and which show that individual personal development has taken place. In addition, good practice has been recognised and highlighted externally in the Anniesland College HMIE report and in the inspection report on services for the children of asylum seekers in the Glasgow City Council area.
At the same time, partners have worked to remove or at least lower the barriers to this process that are put in place by organisational systems and the society of host communities. This has involved a concerted effort including work to raise awareness among individuals, campaign for fair reporting in the press, adapt procedures to make them more accessible, and create new equivalent qualifications to level the playing field. The lessons learnt from work with individuals, communities and organisations have enabled the development of good practice that can be replicated elsewhere, either working specifically with asylum seekers or in mainstream settings.
Sharing good practice
Developing good practice has required partners to build on their previous experiences and successes and undergo a process of continuous learning to adapt projects to achieve their aims. This has often involved lateral thinking, and in some cases aims and objectives had to be altered when it became apparent that the original plans would not work.
A key to success for new projects was establishment of clear aims and objectives, commonly understood by all stakeholders with real goals negotiated and agreed at the start. Marketing of some form has been required as part of every project and, where successful, this has involved a careful analysis of the target audience to gauge what materials and design would help take the desired message to each group. It has not always been necessary to translate the materials. This should be investigated carefully in each particular situation, and if it is considered necessary, into which languages. Some partners found that this was appropriate for their target group and others did not.
The process of developing community cohesion requires equal engagement of host communities and asylum seekers. Successful projects have brought groups together to focus on achieving a common goal. This shared sense of purpose acts as the vehicle for community development. Every project has had a responsibility to support promotion of positive images of asylum seekers and to manage the information released to the public to prevent any potential media misrepresentation. Many partners were members of the Asylum Positive Images Network, which was a supporting factor in this.
Learning to communicate in English is key to integration. However, leaving students isolated in ESOL classes adds extra barriers. The sooner a student is able to study in mainstream classes, the better the opportunities for social integration will be. The development of new qualifications and flexible approaches to learning has helped to address this.
Flexibility has also been key to successful prevocational support. Services need to be designed to meet individual needs rather than slot people into existing programmes. This requires an early audit of skills, experiences and interests, consultation on options and elements of choice, and efforts to make opportunities accessible on a practical level. The needs that asylum seekers have are different from those of other groups requiring employability support, and one asylum seeker will have different needs from those of another. Young people in particular require extra one-to-one support and time to make the most of the opportunities presented to them.
Work under Round Two has highlighted the needs for more volunteering opportunities for asylum seekers that are relevant to the fields of employment where they might wish to work in the future. There is a need for awareness-raising amongst asylum seekers of volunteering opportunities, and amongst volunteer organisations of the potential that asylum seekers offer. This needs to be augmented by adequate resources to provide flexible support for individuals and organisations.
All the partners have highlighted the importance of not underestimating the value of the human resources that have made projects work, both project staff and asylum seekers. The passion and enthusiasm of staff and participants have made Round Two a success. The challenge for the future will be to build the capacity of staff to involve asylum seekers and to adapt services to meet changing demands and new situations.
Influencing policy in changing times
Working in partnership, projects have already carried out a great deal of work to influence policy. This has contributed to the decision to allow young asylum seekers educated in Scotland to access higher education, to the recognition of ESOL qualifications by higher education establishments and employers, to policy developments relating to trafficking, to joint work with the National Union of Journalists and the Press Complaints Commission, and to a response to the Green Paper on the Common European Asylum System. The changing demographics of asylum seekers in Glasgow, with more single people and with decisions being made more quickly, will affect the kinds of services needed. Projects will need to adapt their services to provide integration and to support people with refugee status who have been in Glasgow a relatively short period of time. Furthermore, the Scottish context provides a promising base for welcoming asylum seekers, and services should capitalise on this. The argument to reinstate the pre-2002 position where asylum seekers were able to apply for discretion to work if they have been waiting for more than six months for a decision on their claim holds little weight if the New Asylum Model works as planned. However, there are other policy areas where changes would have a significant benefit to asylum seekers in need of support. Young asylum seekers should not be excluded from support offered to the NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training). In addition, a strategic approach is required to solve the problems caused by lack of childcare provision.
Empowerment and personal development are slow processes and require long term funding to ensure continuity. However, the picture looks bleak in relation to future funding possibilities for integration work. The overall sum available will be significantly reduced when Equal ends in December 2007. Remaining funding streams need to complement each other to allow activity to continue across the four key areas of:
Priorities should be to fund evidence based practice allowing for flexibility and innovation to address emerging issues. Ideally there should be some development to harmonise monitoring and evaluation systems.
The lessons learned and good practice developed over the five years of the Equal programme will no doubt be taken forward by each of the partners involved. The true test will be whether mainstream organisations are able to use and adapt the materials produced in other settings and whether further policy changes are achieved.