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What Refugee Integration Strategies Work in the UK?

Behind all-encompassing labels like ‘refugee’ and ‘asylum seeker’ are real people, each with their individual stories and circumstances. Their reasons for seeking stay in the UK are diverse, dependent on an array of personal, environmental and historical factors. Some are fleeing war-torn zones or countries plagued by natural disasters, while some may have legally immigrated to the UK as part of government-driven recruitment schemes, but sudden changes in immigration policy have left them without a visa. 

Without a Leave to Remain status issued by the Home Office, asylum seekers are unable to work, access healthcare or housing, and face many hurdles in using public services such as banking and schools. 

Even after obtaining refugee status, there are still many barriers that delay and prevent an individual’s ability to assimilate and find stable living in UK society. We’ve compiled a list of effective integration strategies, and also how UK citizens and those with settled status can help nurture a kinder, more humane place for refugees and asylum seekers on a local level. 

Effective integration strategies honour the unique circumstances of migrants.

Are they on resettlement schemes already? What is their education and employment history before arriving in the UK? Are there gender-specific considerations that need to be taken into account? Projects that are collaborative and co-designed by migrant communities are also more likely to be tailored to their specific needs and help secure long-term inclusion.

1. Employment

The employment rate of refugees in the UK is only 51%, as opposed to the 73% employment rate of UK-born individuals. On average, refugees who are employed are paid £9/hour, which is 38% less than the average salary of UK-born. Only 10% of employed refugees work in roles that classify as professional. Although refugees are legally allowed to work in the UK, this immigration status is meaningless from an integration standpoint without systemic support to help migrants access the labour market and find stable professions. The strategies in the rest of this list tackle the nuanced barriers that migrants face when seeking employment and becoming self-sufficient.

2. Language 

Language is a key skill that paves way to integration for refugees and asylum seekers. It allows migrants to understand the UK labour market and negotiate job prospects, communicate their needs to healthcare providers, become literate users of the service industry; language is the foundation to accessing basic human rights. Many community centres and charities that run free ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) classes for migrants have volunteering opportunities for fluent English speakers. The contributions of volunteers are pivotal in helping participants practice and gain self-esteem when speaking English. Hear Migrateful’s founder, Jess, speak about her journey in ESOL classes for refugee women and the ways language can empower migrants.

3. Social networks

While some migrants may have existing family and friends in the UK, others have to navigate a foreign landscape alone. For refugees and asylum seekers, ESOL classes and community activities are platforms to meet others in similar situations and build support networks. In the long run, these communities also foster leadership figures who can bring a more collaborative relationship between organisations and migrants.

4. Mentorships and placements

Many refugees and asylum seekers are highly trained professionals in their country of origin but whose qualifications are not recognised in the UK. While this is an infrastructural failure that entraps migrants in unemployment, it has also regrettably been co-opted in anti-immigration rhetoric to blame refugees as “parasites”. To combat these unfair claims, there are projects which help refugees adapt their skills and enter the workforce. For example, the Thistles and Dandelions Project is a yearlong programme in partnership with Glaswegian cultural institutions to help female migrants, refugees and asylum seekers develop transferable skills in the heritage sector. 

5. Public Opinion

Changing the public’s opinion is crucial to undoing the discrimination that migrants face in the UK — discrimination that has been historically perpetuated by the negative portrayal of asylum-seekers in the media and by the Conservative party. There are many ways we can overturn this. Public institutions like The Migration Museum are excellent free and family-friendly educational resources that tell the stories of migrants and migration in the UK. Private companies can openly support refugees, with public pledges or partnering with organisations to set up employment schemes specifically for refugees. The corporate parties at Migrateful are also a wonderful way to connect people in your immediate circle of influence to migrant issues. Overall, these efforts help erode the discriminatory fear that employers might harbour towards hiring migrants and dismantle common misconceptions about refugees and asylum seekers.

A joyful moment from Migrateful's corporate cooking classes.

Integration strategies must intersect and work in tandem with one another. The Hostile Environment Policy has placed excessive pressure on NGOs and community-led groups, with funding cuts to local councils making it evermore difficult to maintain crucial services that help migrants integrate. Part of effective integration is also holding the UK government accountable, such that these inspiring grassroot initiatives are also met with change on a policy and legislative level as well.

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  1. anita farrell

    very clear and informative

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