Action urged to ease refugees’ alcohol plight

Crucial policy changes are needed to reduce the alcohol-related harm being experienced by refugees and asylum seekers across the UK, researchers say.

Alcohol abuse

A study based on interviews with 20 people who have recently sought asylum in the UK reveals that none had arrived in the country with alcohol-related problems.

Instead, their difficulties were triggered by the stresses and long waiting times associated with the UK immigration and asylum process, the study team says.

Problems were compounded when people experienced the destitution that often results from a rejected claim for asylum, the report found.

Meaningful activity

The study urges the UK Government to allow people seeking asylum to work and engage in meaningful activity while their claim is being processed.

And, if asylum is refused, people should either be deported straight away, or continue to be given accommodation to avoid them becoming immediately destitute.

Once homeless and unable to access any financial support, people have very few places to turn to for help, the report authors say.

We want to improve understanding of health harms that are often overlooked among refugees and asylum seekers, and help to create a more humane response to these.

Fiona CuthillCentre for Homelessness and Inclusion Health, University of Edinburgh

Factors explored

The study by the University’s Edinburgh School of Health in Social Science explores the factors influencing harmful alcohol use through the refugee journey.

It was carried out jointly with Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) – a partnership of the Medical Royal Colleges in Scotland and the Faculty of Public Health.

Support workers from third sector organisations were also interviewed as part of the study, which is being published by Public Health Scotland.

Negative impact

The report found that stopping people from working while they wait for their asylum claim verdict contributes to mental ill-health and a sense of depersonalisation.

Long waiting times, social isolation, boredom and poverty were all identified by interviewees as key contributors to harmful drinking.

Study participants said that being able to imagine a positive future was vital to their health and wellbeing.

Meaningful activity, social support and connection to third sector bodies, churches and volunteer organisations also had a crucial role, they said.

The burden of alcohol harm falls disproportionately on the most vulnerable and this includes people who have been made destitute as the result of a rejected claim for asylum.

Lindsay PatersonInterim Director, SHAAP

Related links

Centre for Homelessness and Inclusion Health

Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems

Monitoring Report


(Picture credit: Getty)