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Investigating the use of temporary accommodation to house asylum seekers and refugees during the Covid-19 outbreak

A project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) rapid response to COVID-19, is to investigate the use of temporary accommodation to house asylum seekers during the Covid-19 outbreak. The Principal Investigator is Dr Taulant Guma, Lecturer in Human Geography at the School of Applied Sciences.

The re-housing of asylum seekers and refugees into hotels in Glasgow has been a growing social issue throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. There has been mounting concern over the welfare of displaced individuals in the city and numerous reports of crowded living conditions and lack of available healthcare, which is leaving asylum seekers vulnerable to the Coronavirus outbreak and other social issues.

Recent moves by private sector firms to relocate asylum seekers into ‘safe environments’ have been widely criticized, particularly for the difficulties in maintaining physical distancing in new crowded, shared spaces thus increasing the risks of exposure to Covid-19.

Organisations and stakeholders representing asylum seekers have reported the fear and distress that this move has caused for asylum seekers.

Well-publicized incidents of violence and suicide by asylum seekers and refugees in Glasgow hotels last year have illustrated the added pressures facing private firms who are responsible for their re-housing to implement more protocols to ensure duty of care.

In addition, this re-housing has also made it difficult for charities to provide support to affected individuals, who are moved often at short notice.

Statistical analysis has shown that BAME groups have been most affected by the Covid-19 outbreak in recent months. The role of housing vis-à-vis Covid-related risks is an area that has been identified as requiring attention in the UKRI’s call for research on BAME groups. Asylum seekers living in the UK in particular are one of the most marginalised groups in society, with most living in poverty, experiencing poor health with the pandemic placing them in one of the most at-risk groups.

The Edinburgh Napier study will adopt a digital ethnographic approach that is co-designed and co-produced with MORE (Migrants Organising for Rights and Empowerment), a grassroots migrant organisation run by people with experiences of asylum seeking, and the deliverables will be co-created with the partner organisation and migrant participants.

The year-long project will be headed by Dr Taulant Guma and his team includes Dr Gavin Maclean, and Dr Kiril Sharapov from the School of Applied Sciences; Dr Kirsten MacLeod from the School of Arts & Creative Industries; and Yvonne Blake and Robert Makutsa from MORE

The team will produce a social impact documentary, which will give a voice to asylum seekers’ experiences of housing during the Covid-19 pandemic in Glasgow.

“The film will have impact on several levels – through its process of production it will provide a space for dialogue and reflection allowing participants and community researchers to articulate and share the problems, issues and concerns they experience in what is an often lonely and hostile environment,” says Dr Guma.

“Our project will focus on this current and unfolding issue related to the provision of temporary accommodation for asylum seekers during the Covid-19 pandemic. It will examine what the situation is currently on the ground, how the crisis has accentuated the risk for those seeking asylum and develop responses with migrant communities to create a genuinely ‘safer environment’ for asylum seekers.”

The team’s key objectives are:

  • To identify factors and mechanisms which have placed asylum seekers living in temporary accommodation at greater risk of Covid-19 during this crisis.
  • To document the housing conditions and understand the impact of relocation from the perspectives and experiences of asylum seekers themselves.
  • To work with grassroots community groups to influence government policies and practices on asylum accommodation in order to address the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on those seeking asylum.
  • To influence media and public debate and raise awareness about the issues and challenges faced by asylum seekers and refugees living in the UK.

For further information on this project contact T.Guma@napier.ac.uk

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