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Baggage Hall 246Factors in successful resettlement of refugees

Acknowledgement: ‘Syria Briefing - A summary of findings from refugee resettlement programmes’ Home Office Science: Migration and Border Analysis. Sohail Jannesari, Susie Macpherson and Carolyne Tah

I recently attended a Conference hosted by the Home Office on resettlement of Syrian refugees. I found a paper, published by their science unit, particularly helpful.

A summary of findings from refugee resettlement programmes shows the following:

English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) is critical to integration. Refugees’ English improved over time: a 2012 Gateway evaluation indicated that at six months, men were far more likely than women to progress.

Women especially find it difficult to access ESOL. A previous evaluation indicated that 18 months after arrival 72% of women had “very limited” English, compared to just 26% of men. Childcare was consistently a major barrier to attending classes and progressing.

ESOL provision is sufficient in many areas to meet demand. Many other countries provide more language training than the UK: for example, in Denmark the resettlement programme offers three years of Danish language training post-arrival.

Refugees have had poor employment outcomes: a 2014 evaluation found that only 5 out of 75 refugees were in paid employment 18 months after arrival: this has implications for the extent to which resettled refugees will need to be supported after a year.

ESOL is not the only barrier to employment: work experience, qualifications or recognition of qualifications, IT skills and Jobcentre Plus practices all appeared to be barriers to employment. For those who did find employment, it was often not commensurate with their skills. There may be scope to improve outcomes by proactively engaging employers: 51% (103 of 201) of businesses surveyed in Gateway areas said they would consider providing Gateway refugees with a work placement.

Integration programmes should consider mental health: Resettled refugees may have experienced severe trauma and are at risk of developing mental health issues. Mental health issues can impede language acquisition and employment. It is crucial that refugees are screened for mental health difficulties on arrival and offered appropriate provision. Those interacting with resettled refugees, such as foster parents and teachers, should have an understanding of the support needs of refugees with mental health issues.

Integration was affected by age, life history and previous levels of education:  children appeared to be integrating more readily than adults. The 2014 evaluation indicated that ESOL attainment related to education levels: for example, that 22% (4 of 18) of those with no previous formal education spoke English “well”, compared to 65% (11 of 17) of those with further education. 98% of refugees from urban areas felt they were coping with life in the UK, compared to 83% from rural areas.

Refugees find it harder to integrate in deprived areas. Resettling refugees in areas of high unemployment means refugees enter an extremely competitive labour market. Settling refugees in prosperous areas is not always the answer – many have high graduate populations and hence competitive low-skilled labour markets. High-skilled opportunities may not be accessible due to difficulties in converting foreign qualifications.

Community tensions may be exacerbated in areas with a lack of jobs and social housing. For instance, an Open Society Foundation report on the white working class found that in Higher Blackley, an area of high deprivation in Manchester, job insecurity, disconnection to institutions and cultural anxieties were combining to produce a negative attitude towards immigrants.

Refugee networks can reduce isolation. The distance between refugee housing differs depending on the resettlement area; large distances can lead to isolation. Housing arrangements should encourage refugee networks while discouraging ghettoization. This could be achieved by dispersing refugees across town with some clustering.  Weekly gatherings or the creation of a refugee organization may also help address isolation reported by some Gateway refugees.

Resettlement areas with social housing will help refugees integrate better.  A 2007 study of housing pathways for different migrants by Sheffield Hallam University interviewed 39 immigrants. They found that the 10 immigrants resettled through the Gateway programme particularly valued the security of tenure provided by social housing (as opposed to private rented housing) as it helped them integrate into the local community.

The physical qualities of housing can affect mental health. The physical space is important for refugee mental health. For instance, a former prisoner and torture survivor might risk re-traumatization if they are placed in accommodation with bars on the windows. A 2006 study in Scotland found that “by far, high rise flats were the most unpopular type of accommodation”. This was because these buildings did not always exist in the country of origin and refugees felt anxious about the stability of the building.

Suggestions arising from the Resettlement Evaluation were:

  • Increase the amount of ESOL training clients receive, and ensure everyone is able to access free provision (including providing childcare).
  • Assessing individuals’ ESOL needs and ensuring that provision is available at the right skill level, focusing on appropriate content (everyday needs, rather than simply finding a job) and accessible immediately on arrival or even prior to resettlement.
  • Specialised and tailored employment support so that refugees can access individualised help with CV writing, job application, qualification recognition and identifying job opportunities, e.g. through providing an employment advisor of Jobcentre recognized job club.
  • Engaging potential employers: Raising understanding of refugees; situations as well as their profile, in particular by ensuring that employers understand that Gateway refugees have the right to work in the UK as soon as they arrive (a fact many are not aware of): and establishing volunteering opportunities (through agreements with local charities and businesses) before clients arrive.
  • Caseworker and community support: lowering caseloads to enable more intensive support, sharing best practice and creating drop-in “hubs” for refugees.
  • Improving outcomes for women: addressing consistently poorer outcomes for women by providing childcare, to enable ESOL access, and supporting routes to integration other than through work – perhaps through measures to improve social connections and belonging, health and wellbeing, knowledge of rights, responsibilities and institutions, and engagement with children’s schools. 

There are several suggestions here that churches could help with, for example:

  • ESOL provision (conversation clubs) especially for women alongside parent and toddler activities – use of simple materials such as Survival English
  • Job clubs
  • Volunteer opportunities
  • Drop-in hubs – they facilitate a support network 

See report here

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Geoff Knott, 08/03/2016

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