Asylum seekers and refugees face significant occupational deprivation and barriers to integration, access to healthcare, a stressful lack of clarity around their status, poor housing conditions, prohibitions on work and restrictions on how they can spend their small allowances.
The team at York St John University wanted to explore the value and meaning of a drop-in service in Stockton, which offers social and emotional support to asylum seekers and refugees, and to explore the occupational preferences of service users.
Final year students at York St John are offered opportunities for involvement in real-world research. Ten students were involved in this project, and the presenters highlighted the diversity of their research team as one of the project’s strengths. The students also undertook cultural awareness training ahead the project, which was crucial to aid understanding of how people tick in their own environment.
On an initial visit to the centre, the team found a hectic, chaotic, crowded, but fundamentally joyful, multicultural environment, which offered services including a clothing and food bank, English classes, sewing machines to adapt clothing, opportunities for social interaction, hairdressing, crafts and volunteering. This initial visit was an informal opportunity to establish rapport. A gatekeeper then took the task of selecting people to take part, who had free choice on participation.
Two team members travelled up each week to interview two participants: a format deliberately chosen to avoid replicating the feel of a Home Office interview. Two of the researchers could conduct interviews in Urdu: removing the language barrier and need for a translator.
The interviews resulted in hours of rich recorded content from 7 women and 11 men, ranging in age from 31 to 60. The strongest theme to emerge was the sense of community and integration. The need for meaningful occupation also arose: opportunities at the drop-in centre were highly valued. Another key theme was altruism – the research highlighted how people in vulnerable situations themselves were driven to help others after receiving assistance.
One of the surprising insights was the impact of the taxi drivers who transported people from the Home Office centres to the drop-in, who had been a font of knowledge for many of the interviewees.
Those being interviewed also identified areas they wanted to develop, such as better support for women with children. They were not asking for help, but wanting to progress their own community, make a contribution and have productive activities on offer.
Future plans include further research with a focus on support for women and children. This will be achieved with the involvement of an advisory panel of women from the drop-in, to identify occupations that might be beneficial, and to run them.
The presenters highlighted the relevance of the Kawa model for working with this population. The model was specifically designed to consider the needs of those from collectivist cultures.
Key for me, was the researchers’ overriding focus on a philosophy of research ‘with’, not ‘on’ people, and their desire to coin the term ‘compassionate research’, where research is carried out in collaboration with participants, for their benefit.
Written by Beverley Goodman
1st year pre-reg MSc student at the University of Essex