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

Local Partnership Resilience in the Covid-19 Pandemic

Deprivation, addictions and (re)offending are complex social problems. As such, it is recognised that it lies beyond the power of any single organisation to deal with them effectively, and partnership between different agencies ­- including the NHS, local authorities and charities – is key to addressing and resolving them.

But such integrated response has been impacted by the restrictions of lockdown and Covid.

Now 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, will investigate local partnership resilience. The Principal Investigator is Dr Jamie Buchan, Lecturer in Criminology at the School of Applied Sciences.

Jamie Buchan, Principal Investigator
The Principal Investigator is Dr Jamie Buchan from Edinburgh Napier University

In Scotland, local government has historically been more autonomous, relative to central government, than in England and Wales. The 2007-8 financial crisis and post-2010 austerity policies have seriously reduced budgets available for services in local areas. Scotland’s response has been to promote better partnership working between agencies in local areas, and reorient services towards prevention rather than response to adverse outcomes, to maintain the levels of service where possible while saving money.

Partnership and the ‘prevention principle’ were enshrined in the Christie Commission’s Report on the Future Delivery of Public Services, which makes Scotland a particularly fruitful area for the social study of local partnership arrangements.

The research team, which includes Andrew Wooff and Katrina Morrison, both colleagues from SAS, with support from a new Research Assistant, Carmen Nogales, will look at the operation of formal partnership arrangements in Scotland at the level of local authorities. These include Community Planning Partnerships, Community Justice/Reducing Reoffending Partnerships and Health and Social Care Partnerships.

Covid-19 and the associated lockdown have put huge strains on public services at this level, intensifying some social problems (e.g. isolation and domestic abuse) and putting extra strains on local authority funding in other ways. For instance, with very few people hiring venues, revenues fallen.

Not only that, but the actual ‘partnership work’ that goes on in such arrangements depends on clear lines of communication. The research team will look at evidence where local partnerships have risen to the challenges to overcome bureaucratic hurdles and develop innovative approaches to longstanding social problems. For example, street homelessness was dramatically reduced in the summer of 2020 as a result of local authorities and other organisations working together.

The team will also explore whether partnership work in other areas has been compromised or hindered by the pandemic, for example where regular in-person meetings have had to be replaced by virtual meetings.

“We are keen to identify policy lessons for local partnerships in the wider UK and beyond, and our intended outputs are very much geared towards this,” says Dr Buchan.

“The project will begin with an online survey of all Scottish local authorities, to gauge views generally and identify particular areas of concern and interest. This will be used to shape the second stage of the project, which will comprise in-depth interviews with personnel in a few Scottish local authorities. In this way we aim to be both ‘wide and deep’ in our approach.

“The aim is to understand how Covid-19 has impacted on local partnership arrangements, but also to identify examples of good and innovative adaptations to maintain partnership working and community resilience through the pandemic.”

The team’s research questions are:

    • 1. How has Covid-19 affected Scottish local partnership arrangements, in the short and medium term?
    • 2. How has Covid-19 affected efforts to implement the recommendations of the Christie Commission (particularly the prevention principle) in Scottish local government?
    • 3. How have Scottish local partnerships changed their practices to meet the challenge of the pandemic, and how can any progress be built upon?
    • 4. What are the implications of these for existing social inequalities?
    • 5. What are the potential lessons for other countries, particularly in terms of local partnership responses to crises?

For further information on the research programme contact j.buchan@napier.ac.uk

Meeting the demands of a changing world

Dr Janis MacCallum and Dr Graham Wright, Programme Leaders for the School’s Biomolecular MSc suite, outline why this is a good time to become an applied biologist.

Whilst it’s clear the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic are numerous, we’ve been spending some time trying to understand what the ongoing response by the industry and academia will mean for our graduates. And the answer is resounding, it’s a good time to be an applied biologist. The need for scientists has been brought into sharp focus. Every day we are reading in the popular press about immunology, in the shape of vaccines and antibody tests; molecular biology in shape of diagnostic tests run from nose swabs; pharmacology in the shape of repurposing old drugs and designing new ones… I could go on.

In reviewing our MSc programmes to ensure they were training graduates able to contribute to the global response to COVID-19, we found that without exception our programmes were already doing this. Our suite of programmes already have a strong practical element with a focus on employability skills and all are supported by research academics, with strong links across the bio-medical and pharmaceutical industries and research institutes as well as within the NHS. This, combined with module and lecture topics that are designed to react to emerging research and demands to reflect the field, means that our programmes are already aligned to challenges created by COVID-19 and will be ready for whatever comes after it.

Our Biomedical Science programme, covers fundamental and emerging topics in immunology, toxicology, pharmacology and disease biology and how these disciplines are applied in biomedical science, allowing our students to gain unique insights into the challenges currently facing biomedical science (pandemic anyone?). One example of how COVID-19 will be reflected in our BMS programme comes from Prof. Peter Barlow, Professor of Infection and Immunology, module leader on our MSc programmes and Head of Research:

“I’ve given lectures and tutorials on the potential of host defence peptides for treating viral infections and related topics and covered emerging vaccination technologies that can be rapidly deployed that I’ve published on previously. I’ve also run tutorials where I’ve had MSc students critically review prior funding applications and could incorporate these into my modules now that we are starting to apply for SARS-CoV-2 related funding.”

Dr Peter Barlow

Or there is Drug Design and Biomedical Science, a unique programme which combines biomedicine and pharmaceutical science, focussing on the development and creation of effective drugs, from concept to clinic, including the theories and practical applications of chemical drug design and immunology, pharmacology and molecular biology. Our Head of Synthetic Chemistry, Dr David Mincher highlighted just one of the many areas these programmes that will reflect important aspects in the pharmaceutical response to COVID-19:

“A major topic taught in the Drug Design and Chemotherapy module is the design of drugs to treat viral infections, focussed on clinically successful drugs, exemplified by oseltamivir (Tamiflu) to treat influenza, and SARS. Parallel mechanism-based analysis, using our molecular modelling and computational biology facilities are extendable to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, causing the coronavirus disease COVID-19. Chemotherapeutic approaches are critically important to the treatment of viral disease in the scenario that vaccines are of no use to persons already infected with the virus.”

We also offer programmes in Medical Biotechnology (January 2020 intake) and a 2 year MSc programme in Pharmaceutical and Analytical Science (January intake only). All are designed to support you in gaining the knowledge and skills needed to take on exciting employment opportunities in the pharmaceutical, biomedical and biotechnology fields. Perhaps now is the time for you to explore these opportunities further…

If you are interested in learning more, sign up for our next Postgraduate Open evening being held online on the 21st May via this link: https://www.napier.ac.uk/about-us/events/online-pg-open-evening-may-2020#Form .

Covid-19 Implications for Policing

This blog is reproduced with permission and was originally published by the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research (SCCJR) www.sccjr.ac.uk

Dramatic changes to people’s lives globally, resulting from COVID-19, are having an impact on crime and the criminal justice system (CJS). As the police are the gatekeepers to the CJS it is important to consider the implications for policing. These sweeping societal changes shed light on a number of key aspects of policing, and provide an opportunity for police to enhance public confidence and legitimacy – or indeed to erode it.

Maintaining and protecting the ‘thin blue line’

Given that one of the central functions of the police is to maintain public order, a key issue is how to resource the ‘thin blue line’. Sickness absence during a pandemic presents a challenge, particularly given a backdrop of austerity where officer numbers have been dramatically reduced (especially in England). One of the key concerns for police unions has been protecting the safety of the workforce e.g. through appropriate PPE. Union action is important, particularly given police don’t have a right to strike, and securing workers’ rights is not just the right thing to do for the police workforce, it’s also important in order to protect the public.

A key concern for Police unions has been protecting officers through appropriate use of PPE

New emergency public health legislation

A fundamental issue with introducing new legislation in a rushed manner is the potential for governments to take advantage of the situation. It’s important to ensure that these powers are for as short a time span as possible, so restrictive emergency powers can’t be used once the crisis has passed. However, it’s important to note that new police practices have been introduced in order to enforce public health measures brought in by government. A public health approach is not unfamiliar territory for policing, and indeed in Scotland enhancing the safety and wellbeing of communities is enshrined in legislation as a core purpose of policing

A tricky aspect for police practice has been the difference between government guidance around social distancing, and the legislation and what can be enforced. Also, public understanding of government guidance may be confused, particularly given variations at a local, national and UK level, so this is a challenge for police in Scotland. Clarity in communication is central to compliance, and to reducing calls to the police seeking clarification.

Police powers and human rights

A fundamental concern with police powers is always the balance with human rights and, as with stop and search, between securing public safety and individual rights and freedoms. This comes into renewed focus when new legislation opens up the likelihood of a wider spectrum of society to being policed in this way. People tend to be more bothered when it’s something they might experience, rather than the policing of ‘the other’. Given the implications of lockdown will vary depending on people’s situations, and will be layered with inequality, this will impact on the likelihood of being policed. Various debates have emerged regarding differential enforcement, the use of ‘spit hoods’, and Fixed Penalty Notices.

That said compliance has generally been high. It’s important to acknowledge that the intended approach taken by the police has been to engage, and only enforce as a last resort. This is a good thing given that engagement approaches are connected with public confidence.

Public confidence and governance

Why is public confidence in policing important? The CJS relies on people coming forward as a victim or witness, and we know that people are unlikely to share information if they do not have confidence in the police. We also know from the extensive procedural justice literature that how people feel they have been treated in an encounter with the police has an impact on cooperation and compliance. Increasingly, the ways in which people are making contact with the police are becoming technologically-mediated (e.g. via online reporting or social media) but we don’t know what impact this has on legitimacy.

Given the concerns raised above, the governance of these new police powers is important. Mechanisms could include internal governance, making police data publically available, external oversight bodies, civil society organisations, and judicial remedies. In Scotland a new Independent Advisory Group has been set up to review the police use of temporary powers.

Future trends?

Changing crime patterns will have an impact on policing demand and require strong communication from police to increase public awareness (e.g. cyber security) and encourage victims to come forward (eg. domestic abuse). Whilst it is unclear how things will unfold over the coming months it is likely that policing will need to respond to variations in social distancing guidance and compliance. Trust in government decisions, as well as in the police, will be important in encouraging compliance. Indeed it may be that action will be taken to hold governments to account for failures to deal appropriately with the pandemic. There is also potential for social unrest and protests associated with an economic downturn. Policing organisations will need to take very seriously their commitment to the well-being of their workers, who are policing in a stressful context. It’s also important for police organisations to engage and listen to frontline views.

In these extraordinary times governments and police in some jurisdictions will take the opportunity to introduce coercive powers and surveillance measures. Indeed it would be a shame to let a good crisis go to waste -but this should involve taking brave and progressive action. For example, with a pandemic layered on top of a drug related death epidemic, it would be worth introducing safe prescribing and diversion for drug possession. There is also an opportunity for the police to take action which enhances public confidence.

Dr. Liz Aston is Director of Scottish Institute for Policing Research (SIPR) and Associate Professor of Criminology, Edinburgh Napier University, l.aston@napier.ac.uk, @AstonLiz

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