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The essay will look at dispersal policy; a brief background and description of the dispersal policy. Critically analysing the policy in relation to asylum seekers, elaborate the role of NASS and arguments on welfare and asylum seekers in relation to Britain’s changing laws of seeking asylum. Outline how ideologies have used those policies and the impact they have caused. Critique the policy; explain the Implications and challenges for social work practice in relation to the policy.
A policy is a concept developed by government or political party to put down decisions 0r performance and matters that will prove advantageous to society in general. Dispersal is the process of moving asylum seekers to different areas of residence, to share the call on resources and public services amongst a wider range of local authorities across the UK instead of one particular area of the country. Under the immigration and Asylum Act 1999, any asylum seeker requiring support and accommodation may be dispersed anywhere in the UK while their applications are being considered (www.ind.homeoffice.gov.uk).
Asylum is protection given by a country to someone who is fleeing persecution in their own country. It is given under the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. To be recognised as a refugee, you must have left your country and be unable to go back because you have a well-founded fear of persecution. The person claiming for protection is an asylum seeker. If the claim go through the person becomes a refugee (ww.homeoffice.gov.uk).
In Britain, legislation and social policy in relation to asylum and refugees has been a priority for long. Britain gave attention to the refugees they had drafted in the1951 UN convention to provide protection to people who are at risk of persecution in their own countries. People from common wealth countries were invited to fill in gaps in the ‘labour market’ following the economic boom in 1960’sand thus settled in the Greater London.
Dispersal has a history in UK, though it is only in recent years that it has come to be used routinely for asylum seekers. Before the 1990s, it was used to distribute specific groups of refugees such as the polish resettlement in 1950s, the Ugandan Asians in 1972, the Chileans in 1974-1979, the Vietnamese as an attempt to de-concentrate ethnic minority families whose numbers had had been considered too high in relation to resources such as housing and schools. (Griffiths, Sigona and Zetter, 2005).
The concentration of asylum seekers in London and south east generated localised social and economic costs that those areas were not willing to accept. As a result of local tensions, the practical problems of housing, and supporting large and unexpected numbers of additional residents, some LA started to disperse asylum seekers. From 1996 on wards, London boroughs such as Harrow sent asylum seeker to Teignmouth in Devon (Robinson et al 2003 p: 122). This inspired dispersal and more local authorities were encouraged to do so voluntarily. More so, the policy was also inspired by dispersal of Bosnians in 1993, which was hailed as an example of effective settlement based up cluster areas and the principle of ethnic community formation (Griffiths et al 2005).
Initially the policy applied to asylum seekers who are destitute. If they asked for accommodation, they could only refuse to go if they have a medical support in London, risk of domestic violence and have relatives around. The main aims of the dispersal are to relieve pressure on councils in key areas of South East and London which have been over burdened with asylum seekers and to distribute the load more evenly around the count. Those requiring accommodation would be dispersed to areas with housing to spare (www.bbc.co.uk/news).
Dispersal was also seen as a means of improving the access of minority ethnic groups to improving life chances and a way of reducing prejudice through the deconstruction of stereotypes that these groups with areas characterised by overcrowding, poverty. The dispersal would encourage informal connection between neighbours of different races who might then begin to see each other as individuals rather than as stereotypes. The objectives of the policy were to control asylum seekers to enter the UK, increasing speed of the decision making for asylum seekers, refurbishing the financial support method of welfare benefits (Griffiths et al 2005).
However, to supporters of dispersal policy, the issue is one of costs and equity: “if society has made the democratic decision admit migrants, then the whole of society should bear the costs” (Robinson 2003, P: 163). When you look at dispersal, it is not about cutting costs, sharing the burden or addressing racism, but about soothing the fears of some voters who want to believe that immigration, and who is allowed to stay in their cities is under control. The government needs to embrace asylum seeking, shift in the tone of public debate away from illegal immigration and deterrence, using the educational system to change public perceptions, and promoting community involvement, active engagement and sponsorship (www.migrationyorkshire.org.uk).
Dispersal as a form of enforced population control is primarily a means of reducing the social visibility of asylum seekers and their potential ‘pollution’ of social space. If the concentration of asylum seekers in the community is constructed as a problem for ‘race relations’, then their social dispersal is both a valid and desirable outcome (Griffiths et al 2005).
By 1990’s the number of asylum seekers had increased sharply and public opinion had turned against them, racialising the issue and labelling them as ‘bogus’ and undeserving” (Robinson et al 2003 P: 122). They are perceived to be economically motivated. Today immigration is perceived by many in Britain as a problem for our society ‘which stems from a fear of unknown. Refugees and asylum seekers create an unwanted entity of the ‘otherness’ in the margins of UK. “From the moment they arrive they face an unpredictable and often aggressively hostile local public with ‘racist political’ sentiment openly engaging in intimidation and local press making accusations of ‘bogus claims’ and ‘a drain on national resources’ “(Pierson, 2002,p: 203, Dobrowolsky and Lister 2005).
This ‘othering’ resulted in discriminatory policies, which lead to the social exclusion, and discrimination of the asylum seekers, and refugee communities to the extent that their basic human rights have been challenged and their very existence has been criminalized (Dominelli 2002). I think devising strategies to prevent refugees coming to the country are a threat to the civilisation as it violates the basic human rights. The media could be partly to blame for this concept as they often wrongly imply that all asylum seekers for example, are criminals. Glasgow suspended its participation in the scheme in the wave of press hysteria. Media portrayals are often confusing and unreliable as they represent a gloomy impression about asylum seekers. The media blow up the insecurities of the public to sale more papers, as they are the only visible group in the local communities to blame for the ill health of the welfare system in the country. They have been an easy target for all as they are powerless, dislocated, silent, and ‘do not even having the right to be here’ (Robinson et al 2003).
Before 1996, asylum seekers were entitled to use the same social services as the rest of the population for example, if they had had been homeless, they would go to a homeless person unit, for support. The conservative Government introduced the asylum and immigration Act 1996, which meant that asylum seekers were cut off from mainstream welfare benefits. This left asylum seekers with no access to services. However, this was against the 1948 National Assistance Act which requires local authorities to provide welfare support to those destitute asylum seekers. Some local authorities started providing support to asylum seekers and their dependants if they appeared to be destitute. But, this was done on ad hoc basis and there were no clear guidelines of the local authorities’ responsibilities. In 1999, a new policy had been formulated for asylum seekers and refugees, which is called immigration and asylum Act 1999.
The immigration and asylum Act 1999 gave the National Asylum support service (NASS) the responsibility to provide services and meet needs of asylum seekers. This was due to the problems encountered by the social policy of UK regarding asylum and refugees, the policymakers have decided to establish the NASS in April 2000. NASS was set up to alleviate the pressure on the LA, and also to meet the government view that access to social security benefits creates a pull factor on economic migration. The major role of NASS was to provide support and accommodation for those asylum seekers who are poor while their claim is still being considered. Individual will be given accommodation in the UK, which is usually located and on a no choice basis. This meant that NASS has the sole right to decide for the asylum seekers will be moved (Griffiths et al 2005).
In 1999 the dispersal policy marked a fundamental change in British asylum approach by Introducing new procedures for the reception and accommodation of asylum seekers pending their claim for status determination in the UK (www.fmreview.org).
Failed asylum seekers are often destitute when support is cut off 21 days after a final claim for asylum is refused (Refugee Action 2006). The Red Cross estimate some 26,000 are living off food parcels although the figure could be far higher (www.rcn.org.uk/).
Dispersal failed to relieve pressure on London. It is possible that up to 2/3 of asylum seekers decided to remain in London and stay with friends and relatives rather than take up accommodation in other parts of UK while this does not add pressure to housing, it creates problems a with health and education www.school.gov.uk/policyhub/asylum_dispersal).
There were many draw backs, in the dispersal, as there was miscommunication between NASS and agencies concerned. There was no sufficient accommodation in the dispersal areas and the whole situation was in shambles as reported by the for example, councils did not know how many people were sent to them and what language they spoke so that they arrange translating services. In general, principles of the policy were not effectively adhered to. NASS should work closely with other agencies to coordinate action to ensure the presence of asylum seekers do not harm community relations.
NASS has been criticised by Fekete as being oppressive and institutionalised racism in her report ‘Crimes of NASS’: What is so alarming about the approach of NASS is that they do not consider it their duty to protect asylum seekers from racial violence, or ensure racial harmony, NASS is probably the only body in the country with no coherent policies against racial harassment and no apparent overall strategy to promote good race relations (Fekete, 2001). Since the year 2000, the NASS took the responsibility of asylum seekers to disperse them, wherever there is accommodation without considering their culture, language or any individual needs. Those who are vulnerable were left without support or information (Cohen, 2002, p: 119).
Ethnic minority people suffer from linguistic deprivation in areas they are dispersed to. Initially, the idea was to send asylum seekers to established communities who shared a common language and provided comfort and support. However, due to limited resources and scarcity of accommodation in some places, most asylum seekers were sent to places away from the communities. Breaking up families and then dumping asylum seekers in sub-standard accommodation in some of our poorest communities was always bound to backfire. It is a policy that was neither human nor practical (www.independent.co.uk/news).
From 1996 onwards, the responsibility of asylum seekers was given to voluntary organisations, for instance, NASS who dispersed refugees away from their countrymen and families. In so doing, their networks are sabotaged and left in isolation where they do not share any ownership or sense of belonging. They are unable to convey information or attain financial assistance from their communities, and that keeps them in a state of tension.
There are questions about the long-term impacts on social cohesion, because clustering can deprive these groups of people of integrating in the community. Also, clustering led to emergency of ‘Ghettos’ in deprived areas of asylum seekers. “This may in turn hinder refugees’ future integration into communities” (The Guardian 2005).
In addition to that, dispersal has led asylum seekers being sent to live in the very poorest areas where there were large numbers of people living on either benefits or in the lowest-paid jobs where they were not only more likely to face assaults but were also twice as likely to face racial harassment. More so, the accommodation of these dispersed people is made with no choice as to the location and anyone leaving the accommodation offered to them will lose the right to support. As a result, they are will be impoverishment, poverty, exploitation, ill health and sometimes death. Secondly; some of them whose claims are still pending are sometimes taken to detention centres where they are dealt with brutally with discrimination and abuse (Cohen, Humphries & Mynott, 2002).
In relation to housing some private landlords force asylum seekers to live as a family with people they do not even know. Overcrowding has become an issue for larger families, which are given smaller accommodation. Others return to their homeless charities after failing to cope with the situation (Audit Commission 2000, p: 3). NASS housed accommodation has no legal protection from eviction and the legislation of 1999 deteriorated in relation to housing conditions for asylum seekers and where by landlords growing richer on contracts in order to accommodate asylum seekers (Cohen et al, 2002).
One of the worst impacts of the Asylum and Immigration Act is the extension of immigration checks to housing and to all homeless applications. If the Home Office learns that a refuge has received public funds, he might lose the right to stay in the country or fail to renew their permission to stay (Cohen et al 2002).
Again, the vouchers are stigmatising, as they are used in fewer shops and less on public transport. Asylum seekers and Refugees who are skilled, experience high unemployment and low pay as there are not as many jobs in rural areas as the cities, and the policy sabotage them from their networks that would help them. As a result of this, asylum seekers are discriminated against instead of being offered opportunities and strategies for help (Ibid).
The government initiative towards asylum seekers preserved within the 2004 Asylum Act did not include the children welfare or to ensure that their human rights were thought of. On the contrary, children of asylum seekers whose claims failed are threatened to be removed from their families due to the powers of this act. “A government which sets out to make the children of failed asylum seekers destitute cannot seriously argue, ‘Every child matters” (Lavalette and Pratt, 2006, p. 200). It destabilizes the domestic and international human rights commitment and undermines the Third Way ambition of ‘every child matters’.
The detention centres, prisons and enforcement of dispersal programmes together with the 2002 Nationality Immigration and Asylum Seekers Act are all stereotyping asylum seekers as criminals, agree to be dispersed anywhere to get support, accommodation taken off them if they try to choose, taken in to isolation with high levels of crime directed to them, lack of legal representation. According to the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigration: These policies are not only discriminatory against one of the most vulnerable sections of our community but also, of the worst kinds of social engineering which is destined to fail (www.lga.gov.uk).
More so, the Audit Commission has reported that asylum seekers and refugees get poor health care though they are entitled to free healthcare. Some of the GPs have taken their names off the lists as there is a tendency that it might impact on their surgeries. On the other hand, the examinations refugees take at ports of entry, have no follow ups due to poor health check ups. They are again registered temporary which does not allow keeping frequent medical records and cannot put their needs into account due to the rights and responsibilities of healthcare. For instance, most refugees experience post-traumatic stress disorder as they escape. (Audit commission 2000a).
The dispersal is reported to have improved recently, but this is down to the NASS working closely with other agencies like police, landlords, and local councils. They had all been included in the deciding in the area that was to be used, monitored the impact of the arrival of the asylum seekers on schools and other services and monitored community tension (guardian 2005). The policy has some success; this is evidenced by the larger number of refugees and asylum seekers in Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester areas, and Birmingham hosts a sizeable refugee population in Wet midlands. There has been a corresponding growth of refugee community organisations (RCO) in these areas compared to before the dispersal policy of 1999 (Griffiths et al 2005).
In this section the will look at implications and challenges of social workers face in their work with asylum seekers and refugees in the context of dispersal policy in the UK are: Social workers tasks include giving assistance and proper attention to these individuals and ensuring that they receive the services which are included in the immigration and asylum Act. NASS is responsible for identifying who among the asylum seekers have the right to be given the services offered by such agency. The NASS should coordinate with the social workers, and the members of the enquiry lines to know if there are asylum seekers who need assistance of the government (Dominelli, 2008).
Hayes and Humphries (2006, p: 44) argue that “it is often the most vulnerable who suffer from lack of additional support; parents worry for the health and well-being of their children”. For example, a mother who can not breastfed her child because she is HIV positive and cannot afford to buy formula milk for her child. This puts social workers in a dilemma as they are forced to decide on eligibility based on immigration status, and the tension between social work values of providing for those in need and the requirement to exclude people from services. Social workers are forced to negotiate between this role of controlling access to support and that of providing care.
In addition to that, social workers working with asylum seekers experience a growing demand for the services as a result of new arrivals in a period of the budget constraint and their work tended to be dominated by assessing eligibility and providing for immediate needs rather than a broad social work role.
Social workers need to understand the impact of negative stereotyping on asylum seekers. Thompson (2009, P: 158) “the need to recognise the significance of discrimination and oppression in clients lives and circumstances has been emphasised”. As we have seen that asylum seekers will be subject to racist media portrayals and hostile views from members of the public, these factors will not help to integrate them into the community once an application has been successful. Thompson (2009, p: 18) argues that “the role of social work is to contribute to social stability, to ensure that the level of social discontent does not reach a point where the social order may be threatened”. Therefore, it is the role of social workers to help asylum seekers to integrate into local communities and adjust to a new culture. They will need to help asylum seekers to become more empowered as individuals and groups so that they can better represent themselves in the wider community. Empower involves practitioners having to reinvent their practice and their perceptions of particular problems and solutions (Trevithick, 2005, p: 219). Social workers were under pressure as Social Services are using their already over stretched budgets to provide for asylum seekers. Following the negative media portrayals; the local populations made the assumption that the social services budgets were drained, not as a result of government not providing enough money, but because of the asylum seekers. A discussion about who pays the taxes for public welfare and costs of migration devalues immigrant’s contributions to economic growth (Dominelli, 2008).
In some cases social workers were seen as supporting asylum seekers and neglecting the rest of the population. The role of a social worker is to address issues of oppression and discrimination on a daily basis yet their involvement is too little. Emphasis on the health and welfare of children allow social workers to become focused on specific issues such as safe case transfer of unaccompanied asylum seeking children, while not focusing on the needs of the vulnerable adult. (Hayes et al, 2006). Instead of the centralised NASS service provision, it would be better if asylum seekers could use local Social Services teams and benefits offices as these are more accessible. However, limited resources and staffing, the government should provide more support within the existing mainstream structures. Instead of training more social workers and community workers to support the asylum seekers, the government set up NASS, whose staff are not trained in anti-discriminatory principles, and had not got enough experience in housing and settlement issues. NASS’ work practices lead to more discrimination and social exclusion of the asylum seekers.
Social workers must seek clarification within their services concerning the issues related to asylum seekers. As the most asylum seekers do not speak English or cannot command the language well, social workers should make good use of interpretation services and make sure that these services are available for the asylum seekers and able to communicate appropriately. Patel and Kelly (2006, p:5) suggest that “ensuring access to interpreting services, and more equitable access to language learning opportunities, is essential for the appropriate provision of social care to Asylum seekers”.
It is my belief that all human beings deserve respect and dignity and should be treated will equal concern; however, looking at the media it is evident that the UK is struggling to sustain the support required for asylum seekers, which is becoming a growing problem within the UK today. The Human Rights Act 1998 applies to anyone living within the UK’s borders regardless of circumstances or nationality; until an asylum seeker receives refugee status they are often in a state of limbo and regularly their equal rights are denied. Therefore, anti discriminatory practice and humanitarianism is vital within Social Work practice.
Social workers should be involved in campaigning for the rights and ensure that they are observed (Dominelli 2008). The role of a social worker is to adhere to enhancing an atmosphere of acceptance, tolerance and equality for all individuals no matter what their background is. It is essential that Social Workers and those accountable for providing services and support to the most vulnerable in our society do not lose sight of the fact that asylum seekers, regardless of their immigration status, are human beings, with fundamental and basic human rights, needs and aspirations.
In conclusion, although dispersal policies are always understood as ways of temporarily accommodating asylum seekers as they wait for their decision on their asylum claims, the government needs to look at things on a long-term basis so that they are dispersed where they are able to integrate. Therefore, policy makers should also think of the future employment probability and service as they are most of the requirements for the future. NASS should work together with agencies concerned to make sure that asylum seekers are not put at risk. I have critically describe the policy, explained the implications of the policy into social work practice.
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