UK Immigration System Blamed for Alcohol Abuse Among Refugees
A new study has claimed that the UK immigration system is to blame for rising alcohol abuse among refugees.
The research comes following interviews with 20 refugees and asylum seekers across Scotland and the north of England. Findings from the research suggested that alcohol is used as a ‘cheap and readily available means to cope with stress and mental ill health linked to the difficulties in dealing with the UK’s immigration system,’
The study, which was commissioned by Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems found that of the 20 people interviewed, 18 of them were classed as ‘destitute’.
The authors of the study, Dr Fiona Cuthill and Dr Steph Grohmann from the University of Edinburgh, said:
“The main cause of harmful alcohol use among refugees and asylum seekers can be attributed to the uncertainty they face on the outcome of their asylum applications.”
The Stresses of the UK Immigration System
The UK immigration system has been criticised for many years because of the stress it can place upon asylum seekers and migrants.
An excerpt from the University of Edinburgh study explained that the ‘trauma experienced in the country from which these people fled, combined with the stressful UK immigration process, lack of counselling and mental health support means that people are self-medicating to supress mental health issues, mainly using alcohol.’
Asylum cases are particularly concerning, “routinely taking years to resolve”. Also, it is not unheard of for asylum cases to be ongoing for decades, with financial support being a weekly payment of just £37.75 per week. To add to this, asylum seekers are unable to undertake paid employment.
The research stated:
“During the processing of an asylum claim, long waiting times, boredom, social isolation and poverty were seen to contribute to problem drinking.”
Rejected Asylum Claims
The study found that some asylum seekers who had their claims rejected would use alcohol as a method of self-harm.
The study suggested that setting up ‘culturally appropriate mental health services’ for asylum seekers and permitting asylum seekers to work could help to combat the problem.
Academic director for the Centre for Homelessness and Inclusion Health at the University of Edinburgh, Dr Cuthill, said:
“Our work makes clear that refugees and asylum seekers who experience harmful alcohol use in the UK do not arrive with these problems – rather, they are triggered by the stresses and long waiting times of the UK immigration and asylum process…
Problems are further compounded by the experience of destitution that often results from a rejected claim for asylum.”
Lindsey Paterson, who is the director of SHAAP, said that the report highlighted that some crucial changes are needed to tackle the problem of alcohol-related harm in the UK.
Ms Paterson said:
“The burden of alcohol harm falls disproportionately upon the most vulnerable and marginalised in our society, and this includes people who have been made destitute as the result of a rejected claim for asylum and who, as a result, have very few places to turn for help or support.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the UK government said:
“This report has assessed the experiences of only 20 asylum seekers and is not representative of the majority in the UK. We are fixing our broken asylum system to make it firm and fair…
We will seek to stop abuse of the system while ensuring it is compassionate towards those who need our help, welcoming people through safe and legal routes…
Asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute are provided with free, fully furnished accommodation and we cover their utility costs. We take their wellbeing extremely seriously and provide access to a 24/7 independent advice line.”
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