Moving beyond 'refugeeness': problematising the 'refugee community organisation'

Working Paper 85, August 2012

The implementation of the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act resulted in the enforced movement of asylum seekers requiring accommodation away from the South East of England, where many pre-existing networks of co-nationals, families and contacts were located, to dispersal sites across the UK. Glasgow was and remains the only sizeable dispersal area in Scotland, with more asylum seekers dispersed to Glasgow than any other regional site in the UK (ICAR 2007). Despite the non-integrative nature of this policy, friendships and social networks have developed in dispersal areas, from which a number of formalised associations have emerged. These have generally been categorised as ‘refugee community organisations’ (RCOs)

This paper explores processes of change and development within asylum seeker and refugee-led associations in Glasgow. It argues that while previous studies have often focused on the emergence of groups, a life-cycle approach provides a more rounded understanding of the factors giving rise to such groups, as well as the processes of change within groups.

The research problematises the ‘refugee community organisation’ label, showing that the focus on ‘refugeeness’ fails to account for internal diversity, specifically relating to changing and differentiated immigration status within such associations. A life-cycle approach provides a way to move beyond ‘refugeeness’ and to identify and understand important overlaps between different segments within a broader population. Listening to how groups self-align could help increase their involvement in the relevant conversations, and help newly settling minority populations develop their place as part of wider civil society. This paper is relevant for policy-makers, practitioners and third sector organisations and can aid thinking about how to move beyond labels in approaching broader questions, practices and experiences of ‘settlement’, integration, belonging and social cohesion.

Research contact

Teresa Piacentini