Issue Paper 1
Working with asylum seekers and refugees

It is useful to have simple definitions of asylum seekers and refugees as a starting point for working effectively with these groups.

‘A person forced to leave his or her country of origin or habitual residence in search of safety in another country.’
The 1951 UN Convention defines a refugee as a person who ‘owing to a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country’.

Asylum seeker
‘A person who has requested asylum or refugee status and whose application has not yet been decided.’

(‘The a-z of volunteering and asylum, A handbook for managers,’ Ruth Wilson)

Working with asylum seekers and refugees requires a varied approach depending on the individual's circumstances and their status. In the context of involving this group in outdoor activities and events the following points need to be taken into consideration. 

1. Personal issues
2. Cultural concerns
3. Unfamiliar surroundings
4. Lack of equipment
5. Volunteering
6. Training
7. Employment

1. Personal Issues
Access to the outdoors, in particular green space is of great value to both asylum seekers and refugees. It has the potential to offer a calming and refreshing environment away from the immediate stresses of day to day circumstances. It is not through a lack of will or interest that these groups may not engage in events and projects but the fact that in broad terms asylum seekers' priorities are to establish their own security and for their lives to stabilise.

They will commonly suffer from depression, lack of confidence, be inward looking and be liable to illness due to the lack of control of both their immediate lives and their futures.

Factors affecting asylum seekers' ability to engage with opportunities include:
• constantly changing legislation due to political pressure creates insecurity
• approximately 70% of asylum seekers are single women with children therefore their ability to participate can be difficult
• they are often housed in socially deprived areas and are isolated
• the threat of re-dispersal (re housing) is a constant worry that leads to loss of support networks and the need to find new school and hospital places.
• failed asylum seekers may be living on the streets, therefore extremely hard to access

Though refugees may be in a more stable situation as they have the legal right to remain, they often initially share many of the asylum seekers’ issues and may opt to move to areas where their own cultural communities are established, which may be in another part of the UK.

When considering working with the asylum seeker and refugee community it is important to realise that it is generally a transient community.

2.3 Culrural concerns and venturing out into unfamiliar surroundings
When working with asylum seekers and refugees it is important to be aware that within the group there will be various concerns and perceptions when venturing out including:
• fear of rural racism. Groups may be uneasy about accessing green space as they will be more easily noticed.
• fear of dogs. Different cultures react to dogs in different ways.
• reduced confidence in strange places if their English is not good
• asylum seekers and refugees come from a wide range of climates and may not appreciate and anticipate possible weather changes
• unknown flora and fauna may generate concerns about perceived dangers
• a lack of understanding of how land ownership works in the UK
• unsure of what facilities there may be such as toilets etc
• city people can be unsure about what do you do in the countryside

4. Lack of equipment
When involving asylum seekers and refugees in outdoor activities it is important to recognise that:
• they may not be aware of the need to wear particular clothing when venturing out
• they may not be equipped with appropriate clothing for outdoor activities and will probably be unable to afford it

5. Volunteering
Working with asylum seekers in this context means both involving/ engaging them in outdoor activities and events that they wish to take part in and providing opportunities for them to volunteer in a particular task or initiative.

Volunteering in the environment sector has enable people to gain new skills, enrich their lives and their communities'. Refugees have become increasingly involved both as beneficiaries of volunteer programmes and as volunteers themselves.

Attitudes to volunteering varies greatly depending on individuals and their countries of origin.

Benefits of volunteering include:
• refugees are given the chance to get out of the city and do something worthwhile
• activities help refugees to overcome isolation and depression
• a chance for refugees to demonstrate their own skills and make a contribution to the host community
• provide opportunities to gain new skills, confidence, training, work experience and connect into social networks

6. Training
Cultural training for people working with refugees and asylum seekers is necessary for them to gain an understanding of the issues outlined above and to work most effectively with groups.

Training should also be offered at the outset to asylum seekers and refugees to enable them to carry out tasks and gain confidence as members of their new communities. However, one has to be aware that this may be cut short if the participant is deported.

7. Employment
In relation to employment, as a general rule asylum seekers are able to work in a voluntary capacity but not in paid employment, whereas refugees with a right to remain are able to access paid employment. However, refugees face a number of barriers to getting work, these include:
• non-recognition of qualifications or experience acquired abroad
• real or perceived language problems
• lack of experience or references in the UK
• unfamiliarity with British job search or work culture
• racism
(Wilson 2003)

By volunteering, for example in environmental projects, refugees are able to increase their opportunities of finding employment as it can lead to mainstream volunteering and thus to an understanding of how to overcome the barriers listed above.

Reference: The a-z of volunteering and asylum A HANDBOOK FOR MANAGERS
by Ruth Wilson/National Centre for Volunteering
Published 2003 Copyright National Centre for Volunteering and Tandem Communications and Research Ltd