Responding to the needs of refugees and asylum seekers in the context of Covid19 - resilience, adaptation, and new forms of care

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Geography Politics and Sociology

Abstract

This project explores the needs of refugees and asylum-seekers in Glasgow, Scotland and in Newcastle-Gateshead, in the North-East of England, in the context of COVID-19. We focus on these cities because they are key points of dispersal with established asylum service infrastructures spanning distinctive national contexts. We will investigate and compare both the response of organisations who provide services for refugees and asylum-seekers, as well as the lived experiences of refugees and asylum-seekers in the context of a global pandemic in Scotland and England. This will build upon five pilot interviews undertaken with refugees in Newcastle-Gateshead during the COVID-19 pandemic. This will facilitate a cross-national, cross-city account of the lived resilience, adaptation strategies and new forms of care that have emerged in the two cities, that can inform local and national government policy. A UK wide survey will provide a crucial overview of the impact of COVID-19 on asylum-seekers and on asylum services. This will be conducted as the start of the study and again six months after this in order to assess how the sector is responding to the unfolding situation. Twenty interviews with organisations who provide services for refugees and asylum-seekers (10 in each city) will supplement forty interviews with refugees and asylum-seekers (20 in each city). Outputs from this project include three academic journal articles; two research reports and two linked policy workshops/webinars in Westminster and Holyrood; two plain language open access online articles about the research findings; and an animated video.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Refugees and covid-19 
Description https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VuufDV2iSdo 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2021 
Impact Shared widely in the sector and used in training by refugee groups. 
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VuufDV2iSdo
 
Description Executive Summary
- The research draws upon a UK-wide survey of service providers working with or for refugees, as well as interviews with service providers, refugees and asylum seekers in Glasgow and Newcastle-Gateshead.
- For asylum seekers and refugees, the impacts of the Covid-19 crisis overlap with many other challenges and inequalities that pre-dated the pandemic. These pre-existing hardships and the challenges presented by the pandemic, combined to leave many highly vulnerable in this time of crisis.

The response of the sector
- Nearly 90% of service providers felt that they had responded quickly and effectively to the Covid-19 pandemic. Remote working was the biggest challenge identified by service providers, followed by funding uncertainties, issues related to staffing and volunteers, and home schooling.
- Many service providers referred to providing food for service users, using Zoom for online classes and meetings, and continuing to offer, where possible, as many of the services that they had provided before the pandemic. 67% agreed that their volunteers played a key role in their response to the pandemic.
- Those providing services for refugees and asylum seekers have responded in a spirited and flexible manner to the challenges of the pandemic, prioritising the needs of their service users while paying attention to the wellbeing of their staff and volunteers. 91% agreed that their response had improved over time, and 84% had found new ways of working that they will continue to use beyond the pandemic.

Closure of public spaces and increasing social isolation and loneliness
- The requirement to stay at home and the loss of access to physical public spaces and face-to-face activities were significant factors for increasing isolation and loneliness. The loss of access to the physical premises of support groups that provide asylum seekers and refugees with opportunities to develop a sense of local inclusion and are important for socialising, mental wellbeing, forming daily routines and accessing information, support, and education was particularly challenging.
- Asylum seekers who were alone were especially vulnerable to loneliness during lockdown. Single men who had been trying to claim asylum for several years, and who already experienced isolation and loneliness, were particularly affected.
- Those who arrived in the UK during the pandemic found themselves very isolated with many of the usual sources of advice and support not as accessible as they were before the pandemic.

Digital Exclusion
- Digital inequality, such as limited and intermittent Wi-Fi and data access and insufficient access to smartphones, personal computers, or televisions, meant that many asylum seekers and refugees were struggling to access the online spaces that have become especially important for connectivity and wellbeing during the pandemic.
- Digital exclusion is indicative of limited resources and income, but it is also reflective of the restrictive policies that the Home Office places on asylum seekers. Housing for asylum seekers is not provided with Wi-Fi, and asylum seekers are typically unable to sign up for broadband contracts.
- While digital inclusion campaigns made a difference to digital connectivity, many participants in the research continued to have difficulties with internet and smartphone/computer access.

Increased caring responsibilities
- Extra caring responsibilities during lockdown put pressure on asylum seeker and refugee women. Limited financial and material resources (i.e., money, food, computers, Wi-Fi etc.), poor-quality housing, limited English language skills, and limited support networks have made home schooling and general caregiving very challenging.
- Lockdown meant that many of the women - especially single mothers - had few opportunities to have a break from childcare and to have time for themselves. This negatively impacted on important coping mechanisms, such as visiting support organisations and everyday recreational activities, which put significant stress on the wellbeing and mental health of many of the women.

Housing and accommodation
- Having to spend extended periods of time in housing that is of poor quality and contains broken appliances and damaged furniture has been extremely difficult for many of the participants. Repairs and maintenance that were requested during lockdowns were often not carried out, or there was a long period of waiting.
- In multiple-occupancy dispersal housing, the sharing of communal spaces and concerns about other occupants not following social distancing guidelines were creating anxiety about the possible transmission of the virus.
- Staying in hotels during a pandemic posed various difficulties for asylum seekers. Everyday issues included no access to a kitchen to prepare food, poor quality and suitability of food provided by the hotels, and no access to money, as those staying in hotels were initially provided with no financial support; this was heightened by experiences of social isolation and concerns about the transmission of the virus while staying in a hotel.
- For those granted refugee status, moving out of their asylum housing and finding new accommodation, such as social housing or private rental accommodation, and finding furniture and appliances, were made more difficult during the pandemic. This resulted in some people living without various essential items, while others were homeless for several months.

The asylum process
- The long, drawn-out legal process to claim asylum, appeal asylum decisions and find and receive advice about immigration matters was further protracted during the pandemic, increasing existing feelings of uncertainty, desperation, and anxiety.
- For those with refugee status, everyday experiences of waiting and uncertainty also increased during the pandemic. The transition from asylum seeker to refugee was further protracted, resulting in many being stuck in the asylum system despite gaining leave to remain. Waiting and uncertainty around employment opportunities and access to claiming benefits also increased.

Money and Employment
- For many asylum seekers, the Covid crisis has added to their financial precarity. An increased need for food shopping, potentially an increased need to buy medicines, local shops increasing food prices, increased costs for those who have children with them throughout the day are all factors that are heightening their financial exclusion.
- Asylum seekers were not able to utilise online shopping or certain online services during lockdown and so had to leave their homes to purchase essential items, making them more vulnerable and exposed to the Covid-19 virus.
- For those with refugee status, the pandemic has put further pressure on their precarious finances and employment. Many participants lost their jobs at the start of lockdown and were not offered the opportunity to be furloughed.

Health and wellbeing
- For many, pre-existing mental health problems have been made worse during the pandemic, with the challenges highlighted in this report placing extra pressure on wellbeing and mental health.
- Understanding Covid-19 protocols and health advice was challenging, especially for those with limited English language skills, as was access to healthcare and general support.
Exploitation Route Four written questions have been addressed in the Scottish Parliament directly from the research findings.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Healthcare,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://eprints.ncl.ac.uk/file_store/production/278292/9CA31F73-22E2-4362-B45B-1EC82308EA7E.pdf
 
Description Research findings have been shared with the refugee sector and the outcomes have led to four written questions being addressed in the Scottish Parliament and the animated video being used in training by refugee community and voluntary sector groups.
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description University of Sanctuary Annual Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation of project report to University of Sanctuary webinar/conference
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021