5. Responses

among us, the refugee asylum seeking community, there are a lot of issues which needed to be addressed, and we didn’t know how to do it…language barriers, cultural problems and related issues, asylum process, a lot of things…The other side of our time is when you try to help your fellow comrade, your fellow countrymen, not only countrymen, but people in the same situation [as refugees] (refugee man, arrived in Britain in 2002)

Responses to the problems refugees face have been complex, contradictory and multi-layered, including those responses by refugees themselves. Since the early 1990s, refugee community organisations have been increasingly incorporated into the race relations framework of devolved responsibility from the state, with its discipline of funding regimes,[1] and numerous voluntary sector projects specifically targeting refugees have been established across Britain.[2] The Home Office has stated that it views strong refugee organisations and ‘involvement in the host society’ as positive signs of integration, and has actively encouraged voluntary work by refugees who have been granted status.[3] In some cases, refugee sector organisations have effectively become part of the delivery of the state’s punitive immigration system. While some voluntary sector organisations publicly criticised the dispersal system, there was no sustained campaign, and organisations from the voluntary sector, and in some cases Refugee Community Organisations (RCOs), ultimately took the front line in implementing dispersal, sacrificing much of their independence from the state and inhabiting ‘the most visible and contested space within the NASS system’ and its intended role as a deterrent to residence in Britain.[4] Linda Briskman and Sarah Cemlyn conducted interviews with a range of asylum teams and voluntary agencies and concluded:

‘There is a mixed picture among those [NGOs in Britain] with government funding between maintaining independence and advocacy on behalf of asylum-seekers’ rights, and becoming enmeshed in managing an unsatisfactory situation. Individual workers, statutory and voluntary, seek to make a difference, but provision is under-resourced and uncoordinated, leaving basic needs unmet.’[5]


[1] Griffiths, D., et al. (2005). Refugee Community Organisations and Dispersal: Networks, resources and social capital. Bristol: The Policy Press.

[2] WLRI. (2005). Women refugees – from volunteers to employees: a research project on paid and unpaid work in the voluntary sector and volunteering as a pathway into employment. London: Working Lives Research Institute.

[3] Wilson, R. and H. Lewis. (2006). A Part of Society: Refugees and asylum seekers volunteering in the UK. Leeds: Tandem Communications and Research.

[4] Hynes, P. (2009). ‘Contemporary compulsory dispersal and the absence of space for the restoration of trust’. Journal of Refugee Studies, 22(1), 97-121.

[5] Briskman, L. and S. Cemlyn (2005). ‘Reclaiming humanity for asylum-seekers: A social work response’. International Social Work, 48(6), 714-724.

NEXT: Histories of resistance

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