Examining The Asylum Seekers In The Uk Social Work Essay
Asylum seeking families come to the UK with high hopes for their future and are often seeking protection from a perilous past. They are exposed to destitution, poor health, depression, physical assault, sexual harassment, loneliness and stress and family breakdown. The children of asylum seekers are vulnerable and in need of considerable support (Fitzpatrick, 2005). Young asylum seekers are often torn violently from their past life and forced into a new environment where they do not understand the legislation and the rules of social life. In the current climate of antagonism they face suspicion and mistrust (Sales, 2007). The 1951 Geneva Convention is the basis for international refugee law. It provides the right to make an individual asylum claim and protection from being returned to face danger. Those seeking protection go through a formal process to establish whether they fit the definition of a refugee (Sales, 2007). Asylum seekers live below the minimum benefit levels other households would receive and are clearly very poor but New Labour’s pledge to eradicate child poverty altogether by 2020 does not include the children of asylum seekers (Reacroft, 2008). The 2004 Children Act and Every Child Matters (DfES, 2004) identify five broad outcomes for every child, whatever their background or circumstances to have the support they need, however children who are subject to immigration control are systematically excluded from some of the measures proposed to deliver the five outcomes related with the Every Child Matters framework (Crawley, 2006). The tensions between policies for safeguarding and protecting children and controlling immigration is evident in policy and practice. This dissertation is an attempt to investigate the governments response to asylum seekers with reference to child poverty. The dissertation also attempts to consider the impact and implications for social work practice as social work professionals become entwined within processes which monitor and control those subject to immigration controls.
The first chapter will provide a historical background into the arrival of asylum seekers and concerns associated with them. The movement of people geographically is part of human history and controlling it a moderately recent phenomenon (Hayter, 2000). Calls for controls have always been posed, from the 1905 Aliens Act, through to the Asylum and Immigration Act 2006. The arrival of international migrants in to the UK is no new occurrence. This chapter will explore the governments response to groups of refugees and how it has changed through the years. Chapter two will examine asylum legislation and policy, focussing on its impact on children. It will also focus on child welfare legislation. Since 1989 more immigration legislation has passed through the UK Parliament than at any other time during history (Rutter, 2006). Since 1993 and particularly since 1996, asylum seekers are very high on the governments political agenda and therefore a vast number of policies have been implemented. Britain has become one of the leading proponents of the EU’s increasing restriction toward asylum seekers and refugees in the last decade (Joly, 1996). Tighter pre-entry deterrent measures have been implemented, with a regime of welfare disentitlement and social exclusion for those who have managed to gain access. This chapter will focus on the radical change of policy on immigration with particular focus on New Labour and their focus on unwanted migrants.
Chapter three will investigate the tensions that have arisen with regards to the government paper Every Child Matters and the immigration policies. UK policy and practice in many other areas is based upon the notion that children should be treated differently from adults because they are children. By contrast, children who are subject to immigration controls are currently treated as migrants first and foremost (Crawley, 2006). Local authorities are encouraged by recent policies to exclude children of asylum seekers from the Children Act 1989 as part of the wider government purpose of controlling immigration. Chapter four will explore the tensions for social workers. Social workers who should be protecting and supporting children are required to act as if they are immigration officials. Social workers are poorly trained in issues of immigration and are not encouraged to view asylum seekers as service users (Collett, 2004). The role of the social worker in the lives of asylum seekers will be assessed as will asylum seekers experiences of oppression.
The final chapter of this dissertation will provide a conclusion, containing a critical assessment of the implications of the discussions for contemporary/future policy and practice.
Chapter 2 - A brief history of asylum in Britain
Asylum achieved a great political profile in Britain during the late 1990’s. In
order to fully understand the issues and concerns of asylum, an awareness of
the historical background of asylum seekers will be focussed upon throughout
The concept of ‘asylum’ or ‘refuge’ has existed in the UK since the Middle Ages.
However the first piece of legislation to preserve the notion of asylum in British
law was the 1905 Aliens Act. The act defined those who would be excluded
from restriction much more cautiously and it was eventually approved through
parliament. The 1905 Aliens Act set the outline for rest of the century and
ensured that the British welfare state, far from being universalistic, are narrow,
exclusive and nationalistic. (Cohen, 2002). The London County Council seemed
to have taken a hostile attitude towards Jewish refugee’s fleeing Nazism in the
1930’s. This was on the foundation that refugee’s were a drain on the local
authority administered welfare. Immigration controls ensured that few
refugee’s managed to gain entry to the UK and those which managed to did so
on the accepting that the jewish community would take upon collective
financial responsibility (London, 1999). Such a financial undertaking could not
be sustained and the government was eventually forced into providing some
assistance . As the circumstances of European Jewry deteriorated, the British
Government’s behaviour did not alter fundamentally. Britain’s overall response
to the difficulty of Jews was characterized by ‘caution and pragmatism
subordinating humanitarianism to Britain’s self interst (Friedman and Klein,
2008). Jewish refugee’s were also associated with supposedly criminality and
lack of hygiene. As Jewish refugee’s became linked with the social problems of
urban life, attention was directed on their likely social cost. Recently created
immigration officers now needed to make judgements about who was likely to
be a burden on the rates. It becomes apparent at this time the need to let in
only those who will be economically useful to the British nation and those not
likely to need welfare (Hayes & Humphries, 2004). Between November 1938
and September 1939, the numbers of Jewish refugee’s entering Britain were in
excess of 40,000 (Stevens, 2004) and by the start of the war, about 80,000
refugee’s had come to Britain, including 10,000 unacompanied children on the
The reality that Britain took in these Jewish refugee’s has an iconic significance
for it’s self definition today as a generous and hospitable nation. The
anniversaries of the Second World War has been on Britains heroic role, not
only in defeating the Natzi’s but in providing a place of safety for Jewish
refugee’s. However there was significant resentment towards the refugees
from all the divisions of society, particulary the press (Friedman and Klein,
2008). An editorial in the Sunday express in 1938 stated:
[But] just now there is a big influx of foreign Jews into Britain. They are over-running the country. They are trying to enter the medical profession in great numbers. They wish to practise as dentists. Worst of all, many of them are holding themselves out to the public as psychoanalysts. There is no intolerance in Britain today. And by keeping a close watch on the causes that feed the intolerance of the Jews in other European countries, we shall be able to continue to treat well those Jews who have made their homes among us.
Conflict also came from professional and trade bodies. Jewish refugee doctors
coming over to Britain had a difficult time and negative attitudes were also
found in the foreign office. Common anti-Jewish prejudice was influential in
preparing government policy (Friedman and Klein, 2008).
Following the end of the second world war the shortage of labour required
many European countries to look to Asia, the Caribbean and Africa for workers
to rebuild the continent. Britain, looked towards it’s old colonies and in the
1940’s and 1950’s many African-Caribeean, Southeren Asian and African
people entered Britain (Okitikpi, 2003). Unlike the Jews before them, these
black immigrants had citizenship rights as well as a strong idedological
connection. However these citizen’s were treated as short-term visitors,
migrant workers and it was hoped that they would return home and not
require the benefits of long term settlement (Hayes & Humphries, 2004). By
the 1960’s and the 1970’s the enactment of successive excluding immigration
and nationality acts certified the tightening of the immigration rules in order to
decrease the flow of migration into Britain (Hiro 1992; Seddon, 2002).
In 1978 Margeret Thatcher expressed her thoughts about the swamping of
Britain by immigrant ‘culture’,it is apparent that the old racist xenophobia was
not far under the surface, such a logic was implicit in the way an alleged
popular opinion against immigration was used to build support for new
nationality laws in Britain which was pursued by the Thatcher government
(Baumgartl and Favell, 1995).
Towards the end of the 1980’s there was an increase in the number of asylum-
seekers arriving in Britain. Between 1981 and 1988, the average number of
asylum-seekers arriving each year in Britain was less than 4000 increasing in
1989 to 11,640 and it reached a peak in 1991 to 44,840 asylum applications
(Bloch, 2000). The year 1989 marked a turning point, with the start of an
asylum migration of Turkish Kurds, Somalis, Anggolans and Congolese. The
government viewed asylum as a policy problem (Rutter, J, 2006).
The media and public opinion.
It is easy to forget that the arrival of large numbers of Jewish refugees was regularly met with a less than rapturous welcome by the Government, trade unions, certain newspapers and indeed sections of the Jewish community itself.
chapter 3 – Legislative
Asylum achieved a great political profile in Britain during the 1990’s. Until the
1990’s, Britain had no specific asylum legislation (Sales, 2002). The Asylum and
Immigrations appeal Act 1993 was the first act, concerned predominantly with
controlling entry. It created processes for dealing with asylum applications,
introduced restrictions to social housing for asylum seekers and benefits for
asylum seekers were set at seventy percent of income support. An asylum
seeker would only be housed in temporary accommodation while his/her
asylum claim was being determined. This is a lengthily process and can
sometimes take years. Asylum seeker families can be kept in inadequate
housing for lengthily periods, with no security, subject to sudden moves,
resulting in difficulties in securing school and nursery places and being able to
register with a GP (Fitzpatrick, 2005). The Asylum and Immigration Act 1996
also restricted the social rights of asylum seekers. The act withdrew cash
benefits for asylum seekers and introduced vouchers following court
judgement that local authorities should provide necessary subsistence for
‘destitute’ asylum seekers. Adults were not allowed to receive cash, but were
housed and given subsistence in kind and in the form of ‘vouchers’ (Sales,
The labour Party came into power in May 1997. It assured to alleviate the
pressure on local authorities and began a review of the system for asylum
seekers. The result was the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (which came
into effect in April 2000). This Act was more draconian than any other
measures introduced by the previous Conservative government (Fitzpatrick,
2005). The Act confirmed that with exceptions contained in regulations,
everyone subject to immigration controls is to be denied council housing and a
range of non-contributory benefits. These benefits comprise the core, means
tested benefits of last resort (income support, income based jobseeker’s
allowance, council tax benefit, housing benefit, a social fund payment) and
family and disability benefits ( working families tax credit, child benefit, severe
disablement allowance, invalid care , attendance allowance, disabled person’s
tax credit, disability living allowance). In addition, the act disentitles those
subject to controls from National Assistance Act and Children Act support,
solely on the basis of destitution (Cohen, 2002). The Act gave a series of new
powers to the Home Secretary, mainly in relation to appeals (Chatwin, 2001: 7)
and extended the powers of search and arrest and detention of asylum
seekers. The most controversial clauses concerned the extension of the
voucher scheme to all asylum seekers and compulsory dispersal. The local
authorities direct role in supporting asylum seekers ended and was replaced
with NASS (National Asylum Support System). NASS operates on the
presumption that the mass of asylum seekers are ‘undeserving’ and ‘bogus’,
while the minority granted Convention status are the ‘deserving’ (Sales, 2002).
Asylum seekers who receive section 4 support are entitled to free temporary accommodation and thirty five pounds a week in vouchers provided by accommodation providers. No change can be issued for these vouchers. Vouchers come in a variety of forms, such as paper vouchers, luncheon vouchers and card gift vouchers (where credit is loaded onto a plastic card and deducted as it is being spent). Luncheon vouchers are accepted in more than one shop, whereas paper vouchers and card gift vouchers limit the person to shopping in certain shops. Long distances may have to be travelled to collect these vouchers from the post office and when using the vouchers difficulties can arise in the shops. Shops that accept vouchers are more expensive than other shops and markets not participating in the scheme, shop staff may not always recognise or know how to process vouchers (British refugee council, 2008).
A study from the home office (home office, 2001) which was used as evidence about the operation of the voucher scheme when it was reviewed in 2001, found out about asylum seekers experiences of using vouchers. 205 asylum seekers completed questionnaires which were translated by trained interviewees. In depth interviews were also conducted with asylum seekers. Many asylum seekers completing the questionnaire reported they felt embarrassed when collecting the vouchers because they perceived that people were looking at them. Asylum seekers also felt embarrassed when other people complain about the asylum seeker in the queue as delays have occurred. Many asylum seekers also felt distressed about the difficulty they have adding up the shopping and knowing which vouchers to use.
The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002
This Act allowed for asylum seekers to be accommodated in large accommodation centres, with sites containing about 800 people, asylum seekers would receive health care, full board and education. Regardless of being expensive to build, the Home Office was clear on its justification of the new centres as a means of preventing asylum seekers from working illegally (Home Office, 2002). By the end of 2002 the Home Office identified eight prospective accommodation centres, the planning applications for these centres proved to be a focal point for anti-asylum campaigns. Another focus fo ant-asylum campaigners was the publication of quarterly asylum statistics. This occurrence became a radicalised ritual. The Home Office published its data and the tabloid media responded with articles on the growing issue of asylum seekers. But in concentrating on ‘the crisis in numbers’ the government creates an image of hordes of people seeking to enter the UK (Rutter, 2006). The legislation also enables NASS benefit to be withheld from a person who fails to make a claim for asylum as soon as possible when entering the country. Initially this power applied only to single asylum seekers, but has been extended to families. This has led to many people being left without any means of support and homeless. Local authorities are prevented by the legislation from providing support to failed asylum seekers. This excludes vulnerable children who may be at risk from accessing support from social services (Fitzpatrick, 2005).
Asylum and Immigration (treatment of claiments) Act 2004)
This particular Act contained 50 sections. The Act was nearly twice as long as when it was first presented to parliament. The legislation allows for asylum seekers to be moved to a third world country (of which the asylum seeker is not a citizen) without having a right to appeal or entering the thorough determination procedures (Refugee Council, 2004). The legislation also provides electronic monitoring of asylum seekers who ‘appear’ over 18. This was suggested by ministers as a humane alternative to detention (Rutter, 2006). Furthermore the legislation widens the existing power to deny support from asylum seekers who fail to claim asylum immediately when entering the UK. NASS benefit may then be withdrawn from failed asylum seekers who refuse to return home. Parents may then have to consider leaving the UK and returning to a place of danger or the possibility of having their children removed from them.
Asylum and Immigration Act 2006
Although the number of asylum seeking applications had decreased at this point, the government aimed to enhance the immigration system in line with their objectives of stronger immigration controls. This is achieved by introducing civil and criminal penalties of up to £2,000 per illegal employee and a possible 2 year prison sentence for those who ‘knowingly’ employ an illegal worker.
Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009
The legislative changes in this Act are projected to compliment the Australian stle points based system introduced for immigration. The detention of children still remains at this point.
Child poverty Act 2010
Every Child Matters
In 2001, the opening of the public inquiry into the death of a child abuse victim Victoria Climbie led to the government paper Every Child Matters (DfES, 2003). The chair, Lord Laming assured that it would mark a turning point in the protection of vulnerable children. The inquiry report (Laming, 2003) made 108 recommendations and seeked to ensure that children do not fall through the safety net of protection. It identified five broad outcomes for children. These are to be healthy, to stay safe, enjoying and achieving, contributing to society and achieving economic well being. They aim to provide children and young people with support, sharing, promote better information and a comman assessment framework for professionals to certify clear accountability and to establish multi-disciplinary teams based around universal services.
The Laming inquiry is significant to the situation of asylum seekers. Victoria Climbie, who came to the UK with her great aunt was tortured and neglected and eventually died in horrifying circumstances. Victoria was not an asylum seeker, she and her Aunt were French nationals but their immigration status excluded them from claiming benefits and housing under the habitual residence test. It is apparent from Lord Laming’s report that it was the issue of accommodation and financial support that brought Victoria to the attention of social services. The government however subsequently introduced legislation to prevent EU nationals and asylum seekers in the same position as Victoria Climbie from accessing this type of help from social services (Fitzpatrick, 2005). It would appear that asylum seeker children are not treated as children in the general population and their immigration status is viewed first and foremost, rather than the fact that they are children and that every child in the UK should matter, regardless of their immigration status.
Chapter 4 – Tentions
This chapter will attempt to assess the governments assurance that every child matters in the UK and how far this is extended to including asylum seeking children. There are a number of pieces of legislation that are of concern to asylum seekers and legislation that appears to exclude them. Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claiments, etc) Act has been a severely controversial provision which gives the Home Office powers to terminate all welfare support to failed asylum seekers. The tension between policies for safeguarding and protecting children and controlling immigration is evident in policy and practice.
Every child matters
As discussed in the previous chapter, in 2004 the government published Every Child Matters: Next Steps (DfES 2004)
a green paper on children’s services, followed by the children Act 2004. The green paper and legislation was prompted by the inquiry into the murder of eight year old Victoria Climbie. Prior to her death, Victoria Climbie and her carers had extensive contact with social services, the police and hospitals, all of whom failed to share information with one another and ultimately failed to intervene to protect Victoria Climbie (Lord Laming, 2003). The Every Child Matters (ECM) framework aims to bring about root-and –branch reform of children’s services at every level to ensure that all children and young people achieve five main outcomes. The governments aim, whatever their background or their circumstances, to have te support they need to:
Be healthy (physically, mentally, emotionally and sexually), to follow a healthy lifestyle and choose not to take illegal drugs;
Stay safe (from maltreatment, neglect, violence, sexual exploitation, accidental injury and death, bullying and discrimination, crime and anti-social behaviour in and out of school and to have security, stability and to be cared for;
Enjoy and achieve through learning by being ready for school, attending and enjoying school, achieving stretching national educational standards at primary and secondary school, achieving personal and social development and enjoying recreation;
Make a positive contribution to society by engaging in decision making and supporting the community and environment, engaging in law abiding and positive behaviour in and out of school, developing positive relationships and choosing not to bully or discriminate, developing self confidence and successfully dealing with significant life changes and challenges and developing enterprising behaviour; and
Achieve economic well-being by engaging in further education, employment or training on leaving school, being ready for employment, living in decent homes and sustainable communities, having access to transport and material goods and living in households free from low income.
The ECM framework is considered a positive step in improving children’s services however there is a view that immigration controls take prority over welfare consideration. The UK’s Reservation to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), confines the application of the principles of the CRC in the instance of children and young people who are subject to immigration control, has been in place since the convention was confirmed in 1991 and has been criticised by parliamentary committees in the UK and the international monitoring body for the CRC which states:
‘The committee is further concerned that.....the ongoing reform of the asylum and immigration system fails to address the particular needs and rights of asylum-seeking children’ and recommended that the government: ‘address thoroughly the particular situation of children in the ongoing reform of the immigration and asylum system to bring it into line with the principles and provisions of the convention’. Committee on the Rights of the child (2002) Concluding Observations on the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Paragraph 47 and 48(g).
Whilst the Reservation has been present for some time, the difference with the existing approach is the extent to which local authorities and others accountable for providing protection and support to children and their families have been encouraged to prevent children subject to immigration control from the provisions of the Children Act 1989, Children Act 2004 and the CRC. Consequently, the two systems with which children subject to immigration control are most affected – immigration and social services- are gradually more at odds with one another. As they have competing objectives and aims, each has tried to compel the other to behave differently (Crawley, 2006).
Social service departments have tried to provide support and improve the worst effects on children within hostile practical and political contexts. This position has produced complications for local authorities who are not fully reimbursed for these costs and for the children and families who do not get the thorough protection they need. Imperative questions are raised about the extent to which social services departments can be expected to provide on their duty under welfare law and at the same time participate in the role in controlling immigration.
Accompanied asylum seeking children have less rights than citizen children as they are supported through NASS and do not usually have access to child welfare benefits or the provisions of the Children Act, although they do have the right to health care and legislation.
Unaccompanied children and the question of age.
An unaccompanied minor is a child under 18 years of age who has been separated from both parents and is not cared for by an adult, who by law or custom, is responsible to do so (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 1997). Children who are separated from their parents or carers and who try to claim asylum in the UK battle to negotiate an asylum system designed for adults and a child protection system focussed on children who live in their own community within their own families (Crawley, 2006). Many unaccompanied young people find their plea for asylum to be disbelieved. Those who should slot into the care system as children find their application challenged by immigration officers who class them as adults. Age is key in determining the treatment of young asylum seekers. Many asylum seekers do not have the correct documentation and there is no reliable medical test. The burden of proof is with the applicant (Mitchell, 2003). Age determines the treatment of asylum seekers by social services. Many social services departments remain hesitant to treat 16 and 17 year olds as ‘children in need’ and often treating them with suspicion (Morris, 2003). Many are supported under section 17 of the 1989 Children Act, often in poor quality bed and breakfast accommodation. The organisation Save the Children, reported concerns about children living with adults not known to them, some were placed in hostels with adults who suffer mental health or drug problems (Mayor of London, 2004). A child whose age is unclear will also be treated as an adult for the purpose of asylum determination procedures. Reasons as to why it is unsafe for a child of his or her origin to return back to their country will not be taken into account when assessing the asylum claim. The fast tracking of age disputed cases can result in vulnerable children being returned back to their country of origin with no appropriate reception arrangements in place and without the assistance of an in-country appeal (Crawley, 2006).
Home Office statistics on age disputed applications were published for the first time in 2005 and indicate that in 2004, 5,335 asylum applications were made by individuals who stated that they were less than 18 years of age. Of these, nearly half (44%) were age disputed and treated as adults (Home Office, 2005). This implicates the support and welfare that is made available to them. Clearly there are powerful child protection arguments for ensuring adults do not find their way into the care system.. However if a child is incorrectly identified as an adult they can be forced into adult asylum and accommodation arrangements, including detention or dispersing them to an area in the UK where they have no contacts or support and will not be subject to child protection procedures or be entitled to leaving care services.
Section 17 of the Children Act obliges practitioners, wherever possible, to provide services for children and their families with the aim of promoting the up bringining of children in their families. It makes clear that the welfare of a child is paramount and that a child’s interests are best served within it’s own family. However local authorities are openly prohibited from using Section 17 of the Children Act to provide support to children and families made destitute as a result of Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claiments, etc). Local authorities then have little choice but to separate children from their families and support them in local authority accommodation under setion 20 of the 1989 Children Act. The government’s stated justification for implementing section 9 has been disputed. All the evidence implies that improving the scope and quality of voluntary removal schemes, rather than making families destitute, would be a more successful way of encouraging voluntary removal (Cunningham and Tomlinson, 2005). The Home Affairs Select Comittee (HASC) rebuked the Home Office for pushing ahead with such contentious legislation. The HASC questioned the Home Office Minister, Beverley Hughes, on the proposals on 19th November 2003. Whilst she began by declaring that it was ‘not at all’ the government’s intention to make people destitute, her testimony offered little reassurance. David Winnick, one of the Select Committee’s Labour MPs, asked whether ‘it would be fair to describe the policy as “starve them out”?’ Whilst Hughes denied this when asked whether the government intended to deny families ‘every form of support’ and allow their children to be taken into care, she replied, ‘Yes, that is what we are proposing’ (HASC, 2003: Evidence pp. 8-9).
In short, some of the most vulnerable children in the world are routinely denied basic protection
that all other children in the UK enjoy, when all they are doing is seeking sanctuary here.
Chapter 5 – Social Work
The social work profession seeks to work effectively with those who are vulnerable, oppressed, disadvantaged, socially excluded and on the margins of society. Asylum seekers experience all of this but are not seen as a legititimate social work client group (Collett, 2004). This chapter will focus on the role of the social worker in relation to asylum seekers and discuss the implications for the social work profession and examine the place of immigration within it.
Social work with asylum-seekers and refugees.
Asylum seekers are not seen as a legitimate social work client group. Asylum seekers are vulnerable people who are in very unsettled situations. Asylum seekers face the same social divisions experienced by the most marginalized groups in British society. Examples of these divisions are age, gender, sexuality, religion, culture, race, political belief, poverty, health, education, participation in society, housing, social networks, family life and identity. These divisions are felt by asylum seekers and impact on the treatment and access to support and services they may require whilst staying in the UK (Collett, 2004).
Asylum seekers may seek help from local authorities when they are found destitute, however they may encounter confusion about responsibilities and incoherent services. Some local authorities have asylum seeker teams who deal mainly with families. Although though asylum seeker teams exist, some families are alternatively allocated to the Social Services Department Children and Families team. The relationship between social work teams and asylum teams is far from clear. Some asylum teams deal completely with housing needs, some employ social workers and others would like to. Social work teams are often not sure whether asylum seekers and refugees are any part of their responsibility and may take the attitude that ‘the asylum seekers team will deal with them’ (Humphries, 2004). Many families often depend on voluntary and local support groups who receive funding.
Accompanied asylum seeking children have less rights than citizen children as they are supported through NASS and do not usually have access to child welfare benefits or the provisions of the Children Act, although they do have the right to health care and legislation. Age is key in determining the treatment of young asylum seekers. Many asylum seekers do not have the correct documentation and there is no reliable medical test. The burden of proof is with the applicant (Mitchell, 2003). Age determines the treatment of asylum seekers by social services. A court judgement in 2003 (‘the Hillingdon Judgement’) reiterated local authorities obligation to support unaccompanied children under section 20 of the 1989 Children Act (Sales, R, 2007). Many social services departments remain hesitant to treat 16 and 17 year olds as ‘children in need’ and often treating them with suspicion (Morris, 2003). Many are supported under section 17 of the 1989 Children Act, often in poor quality bed and breakfast accommodation. The organisation Save the Children, reported concerns about children living with adults not known to them, some were placed in hostels with adults who suffer mental health or drug problems (Mayor of London, 2004).
Children and families in the community.
The length of time taken to deal with asylum claims can be a complex and prolonged process. Children and families find themselves subject to different systems of subsistence or moving between them. They are not allowed to work and are forced into dependency. Many families are forced into destitution or towards dispersal (Cemlyn and Briskman, 2003). Many families found themselves accessing NASS, within this new Poor Law (Cohen, 2001). However, the frenzied implementation failures and obstructions of NASS left many families, predominantly those with special needs, further deprived of support or even the means of subsistence for weeks or months (Dunstan, 2002). NASS accommodation is also frequently substandard (Audit Commission 2000; Garvie 2001). In dispersal areas with less cultural diversity, NASS have failed to adopt any strategies or policies when asylum seekers have been exposed to racist attacks and harassment (Institute of Race Relations 2000, 2002). Through lack of knowledge, pressures on social services departments and seclusion, NASS supported families are in effect denied social work support which could support their orientation and integration, except in severe child protection cases. All of these aspects of deprivation, poverty and, lack of choice and racism bear heavily on asylum seekers and their children (Cemyln and Briskman, 2003
Unacompanied asylum seekers
British law recognises as ‘unaccompanied’ only those who enter Britain alone. Immigration officers presume that children accompanied with adults are safe which can lead children vulnerable to abuse (Bostock, 2003). Children may be ‘accompanied’ by traffickers who abuse then economically or sexually. Children from Central Africa are often brought to Britain to be exploited in prostitution and domestic work, while Vietnamese and Chinese boys are brought in Britain for restaurant work (Somerset, 2004). Social services are unlikey to be aware of these children and the governments respose to trafficking has fixated on combating crime rather than supporting victims (UNICEF UK, 2004).
Save the Children carried out research into the experience of unaccompanied asylum seeking children in England (Stanley, 2001). In the Save the Children study, the type of support and level of care received by young separated refugees depended on which social services department they arrived at rather than their personal needs. The study also found that some social services departments enter into contracts with private companies to provide accommodation and care. This procedure leaves these young people with inadequate support and no access to a social worker. The study outlined a number of gaps in provision. Generally the treatment of these young people falls well beneath what is required by the Human Right Act and Children Act (Humphries, 2004).
Humphries and Mynott (2001) found that in Greater Manchester the care on unaccompanied asylum seeker children relied on individual social workers without any specialist training. The social workers had little knowledge about the immigration status of the young people and the relevant legislation. Asylum seeking children demanded more of their time than others on their caseload. The study concluded that:
The overall impression was of professionals who were caring and concerned, but unprepared for understanding or dealing with the particular needs of young separated asylum seekers, and unsupported in material ways by their departments. (Humphries and Mynott, 2001, p44).
Kohli (2000) refers to the ‘intense level of complexity’ that on the ground social workers are dealing with. Others make recognitioin of the complex nature of working with this group of children and refer to social workers’ necessity to intergarte knowledge of migration, identity and family matters with their knowledge and practice in child care and family support (Parker, 2001).
Implications for social work.
The occurance of restricted rights and poorer access to welfare for many residents subject to immigration control has mostly gone unnoticed in many social work arenas. An exemption has been in criminal justice work, where the commission of offences can lead those without citizenship to be at risk of deportation (Cohen, 2001). Whilst limitations in access to benefits, education, health and housing have impacted significantly on the lives of this group, social work as a profession intervened only minimally. What has forced the issue onto the profession’s agenda has been the separation and construction of this category ‘asylum-seeker and the extent of imposed destitution. Social work is now confronted with an unavoidable reality as dispersal places real people with real problems into areas without support or networks. Workers in statutory, voluntary and private settings are often ill equipped to manage the complex situations of those subject to immigration controls and their differing needs and entitlements (Hayes, D, 2004). However Cemlyn and Briskman (2003) state that statutory social work does potentially have skills to support asylum seekers, though these need developing and extending but has limited control of the structures within which it can operate and is being excluded from professional and political engagement with asylum issues.
Tensions between care and control are endemic to social work (Jones 1998; Jordan 1997; Parton 1997; Thompson 2000). Expansion of immigration policy during the 1990’s heightened these tensions and created them in new forms (Sales and Hek, 2004).
State intervention into individual and family life has always provided a dual function and social work has always been at the core of these contradictory pressures . Banks (2001, p16), identifies the ambivalent role that social workers play in society, both as ‘expressing society’s altruism (care) and enforcing societal norms (control)’. In relation to asylum seekers, the divide between care and control is presented in an extreme fashion by the government and the media in the division between ‘bogus’ asylum seekers and ‘genuine’ refugees. Asylum seekers arriving in the UK without any means of support are often forced to negotiate with social workers from a position of serious disadvantage. They are far from familiar with the social work role which does not exist in many refugee producing countries. This compounds the problem of communication which develop from language boundries and emphasizes the authority of the social work professional in the relationship. These pressures tend to reinforce the control rather than the caring aspect of the relationship (Sales and Hek, 2004).
Social work and social policy
Social workers have been drawn in increasingly as part of the surveillance process. During 1996 the government conducted an ‘efficency scrutiny’ on the enforcement of immigration law. It required partnership between the Home Office and the education, health and welfare services in the checking of documentation and general policing of provision. Local authorities are under duty to furnish, at the request of the Home Office, information on any resident in their area alleged to be of unlawful prescence in the U.K. They are also obliged without a request from the Home Office, to report any failed asylum seeker or anyone who they deem to be in the U.K unlawfully and who tries to claim community care provision (Humphries, 2004). This unavoidably commits social services departments to be both inquisitors of immigration status and reporters of that status to Home Office (Cohen, 2003).
Ideas about choice, autonomy, citizenship, community and social inclusion are principle to the New Labour programme (Blair, 1998) , however the government engages neo-liberal economic and morally repressive policies that systematically demean public services and exclude and punish those regarded as having been ‘given a chance’ but having ‘failed’ (Humphries, 2004). Government policy committed to social inclusion, has produced a category of people who are living outside the welfare system and being dispersed into areas which are impoverished and furthermore are excluded from employment.
The issue of asylum is most unlikely to go away. As history shows, people will find other, and possible more dangerous ways of entering countries where they will hope to find refuge (Humphries, 2004).Unquestionably, social workers are relatively powerless in terms of legislation and policies that confront social work values and ethics, which limit their efficiency. Asylum is a highly controversial area of international and national policies and social work at micro levels is playing a small part to ease some of the hardships of asylum seekers (Cemylyn and Briskman, 2003). Lorenz (1998) speaks of social work with asylum seekers and refugee’s as one that challenges the profession methodologically and ethically. He argues that work with people whose citizenship status is in uncertainty tests the relationship of social work with the project of the nation state.
Socially workers are not generally trained in immigration issues, however it is the place of immense institutional discrimination and an area of work in which they are increasingly expected to participate. Social workers have very little training and few resources and the social workers who want to work positively with asylum concerns are doing so in a context of suspicion (Sales and Hek, 2004). Social workers are struggling to find their place in this powerful politicalized field. However social workers are supremely placed both to challenge existing practice methods and to develop alternative ways of working within a framework of rights, cross-cultural principals and justice. Social work is a profession which advocates a holistic approach that breaks down the dichotomies of individual/society, advocacy/casework and policy/practice (Cemlyn and Briskman, 2003).
It can be argued that the balance of social work with asylum seekers has moved decisively towards control, surveillance, restriction and ultimately exclusion (Humphries, 2004). Social work has been engaged with the moralistic aspects of New Labour policy rather than those concerned with attempts to ‘empower’ (Jordan, 2001). The international definition of social work clearly states that:
‘The social work profession promotes social change.....the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well being....’ (IFSW, 2001).
Social workers are clearly struggling with ‘empowering’ asylum seekers as they are increasingly being pushed to act as ‘enforcers’ rather than dealing with some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in society. The problem for social workers is not only the lack of training and resources available in the area of asylum seekers but that they can only protect the interests of asylum seekers up to the point our laws currently allow. Social work has always had a role in policing the boundries of welfare, however under New Labour there has been a decisive move to an increasingly narrow and negative practice (Humphries, 2004). The change in government in 1997 has seen a negativitity towards asylum seekers and state social workers. It remains to be seen the effect the newly formed coalition government will have towards asylum seekers and social workers. However it has been conformed from the Deputy Prime Minister on the 16th December 2010 that detention centres will be closed for all children. This marks an enourmas shift within immigration and is a step closer to showing that every child in the UK really does matters. However the proposal that immigration will be capped on an annual limit to all non EU numbers arriving in the UK to speed up the asylum process merely reflects New Labours tight restriction policies on immigration. If the newly formed governmet implemented asylum seekers as a legitimate service user group this would restore the protection to asylum seekers and their children. Predominantly Children will then be treated as children first rather than being viewed by their immigration statu. In turn social workers can then begin to protect and support this incrediably vulnerable group in society.
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