Mixed ethnic group of business professionals at work

For the past 18 months, I have had the pleasure and the challenge of being a Commissioner on the UK’s Independent Commission on the Integration of Refugees. The Commission’s work represents probably the most significant study of refugee integration in a generation and crucially covers all aspects of policy and practice in the UK which impact refugee integration.

My participation in the Commission came at an important moment in my professional life, wherein I have spent the last quarter of a century researching refugee integration and trying to shape policy. Having studied integration from the very beginning of the UK’s asylum seeker dispersal programme I have been able to identify what has worked and what has not. Like many others, I felt increasingly frustrated at the state of the UK’s asylum and refugee systems having watched conditions and outcomes decline markedly both for refugees and host communities.

Joining the Commission offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put my expertise to work and to do so in an environment that fostered debate and understanding between experts and commentators across the political and professional spectrum. It has not been easy, but today (20th March), we publish the outcomes of our deliberations. These recommendations are based on our consideration of a stunning amount of evidence. We ran hearings across the UK listening to people with lived experience of forced migration, institutions, local people, and many others about their experiences and how things needed to change. We heard that the system was broken and at the current time, did not serve anyone’s purpose. We listened to many ideas about how it could be improved. We put out a call for evidence, surveyed 755 refugees and asylum seekers and worked with the London School of Economics (LSE) on a cost-benefit analysis. All of this evidence was systematically analysed to give us a unique insight into the challenges and possible solutions.

For years the system has changed iteratively but our recommendations offer a total rethink of refugee integration policy and practice in the UK.

Professor Jenny Phillimore, University of Birmingham

The evidence we collected showed that while the system is broken and costly, there is huge untapped potential. One of the biggest takeaways was that allowing refugees and asylum seekers to work sooner when they arrive in the UK in a wider range of roles and offering better access to language classes and tailored employment support, will bring benefits for local communities and refugees and asylum seekers. Crucially the cost-benefit analysis from LSE showed that such a move would bring £1.2bn to the UK economy within five years.

For years the system has changed iteratively but our recommendations offer a total rethink of refugee integration policy and practice in the UK. We are calling for a new approach where all funds for both asylum seeker and refugee support are moved from centralised Government and its private sector contractors to the control of local partnerships. By moving the funds to the local level, we also pass the control of refugee integration to the local level, addressing current concerns around the lack of knowledge and control of accommodation and services for asylum seekers and refugees in the communities they reside. Local partnerships will also be able to decide how monies are spent. Rather than benefiting company directors and shareholders, all surpluses will be invested locally in ways decided by local partnerships. Settlements will be offered in the longer term enabling local partners to plan. They will be able to choose who they work with, which will mean investing in the local voluntary sector and statutory organisations which, we heard, often addressed the human consequences of failures in current policy with insufficient funds.

I am delighted to have had the opportunity to contribute to this incredible endeavour. There is a huge sense of achievement in our comprehensive recommendations, which we believe show great potential to reshape refugee integration in ways that work for everyone. Yet perhaps the biggest source of satisfaction is that we have shown that agreement across the political spectrum is possible. We release our report and recommendations at an important moment where political change in the UK appears likely, whatever the outcome of the General Election. Our work with political leaders and the effort we put into ensuring consensus across the diverse set of Commissioners mean that whatever lies ahead for the UK we have set out a way forward for refugee integration.