Speak to most people working in service provision at a charity and they will tell you that they want to do more work preventing crises for the people they support rather than managing them when they arise. Making such a transition can be hard – any step-change needs a moment of reflection, reprioritisation, and resource reallocation – but the recently launched Early Action partnership, a coalition of eight charities working with refugees, is seeking to offer a blueprint for how it can be done.
One of those eight charities is the Brushstrokes Community Project. Brushstrokes provide outreach and befriending services alongside information and advice, that enables people seeking asylum to negotiate key stages of the asylum process and prevent them falling into crisis. The Frontline Immigration Advice Project (FIAP) at Refugee Action has supported Brushstrokes to re-register with OISC (the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner) to increase awareness and understanding. FIAP are currently training members of the team to be regulated to give free, quality immigration advice, increasing their beneficiaries access to justice. David Newall, who leads the project, summarised the impact of working with FIAP, “…the ability to access the training for staff and volunteers and the ongoing support of FIAP has been vital as the organisation seeks to develop capacity to provide much needed free immigration advice in our area. Without the opportunity to receive support from FIAP we would have been unable to consider developing our immigration service”.
A core partner on the Asylum Early Action Programme, Brushstrokes is developing preventative ways of working and embedding this learning across the organisation. Since July 2018, Refugee Action has supported the charity through organisational visits, needs assessments, workshops and training to develop its Early Action methods. Brushstrokes have increased their contact with people new to the area; they have visited 73 properties where people seeking asylum are accommodated since October 2018. Outreach is enabling them to reach groups affected by health issues, lack of childcare and geographical distance, and allowing them to plan and foresee problems to engage with people much earlier on in their asylum journey.
Over half of the cases seen in the last two months were known to the project because of outreach. 70 per cent of them did not have legal representation for their asylum claim. Meeting people at their accommodation has built trust, enabled them to understand the type of support they can provide and enabled them to secure legal representation for all individuals. David is confident that without this contact it is likely most of these individuals would be unrepresented in their asylum case.
A key component of Brushstrokes’ Early Action work is delivering Asylum Guides, a legal education programme dedicated to supporting people seeking asylum to understand the asylum system and feel more confident throughout their asylum journey. Brushstrokes was instrumental in the development of the programme and have since embedded Asylum Guides into their service. Since July 2018, 18 Asylum Guides have been matched with a client. When asked about the service, 100 per cent of clients would recommend the programme to their friends. Whilst most are still waiting for a decision, two clients supported by a guide have received a positive decision on their asylum claim.
One of the clients was introduced to a guide early on in their arrival into Sandwell. They received support to find a solicitor, understand the legal context of their asylum claim, their entitlements and what happens after a decision is made. In their final meeting, the client inquired about training to become an Asylum Guide so he too could help others. He summarised the impact of the project in the most honest and illuminating way: “I hope many people can get the same help in the future. Many people misunderstand the process, so it would be very good for them to have the same support. Thank you again. The project should be announced publicly for more people to access”.
Rebalancing our efforts
The Asylum Early Action partnership are looking for organisations to join them on this Early Action journey as we discover ways to rebalance our efforts towards giving asylum seekers early attention, information, and timely help and to do so in ways designed by them, not just for them. We are looking for partners to join us by becoming signatories to the Asylum Early Action Principles. We recognise there are barriers for organisations to overcome, so we will be sharing experiences, resources and best practice; as well as offering meet-ups and learning events to help bring about a step-change in the way that support for sanctuary seekers is designed, delivered and funded.
And for those not in the asylum or refugee sector, we still hope that the principles of our approach – from participatory service design to prioritising long-term change – will be applicable across the charity sector, no matter who you are supporting. So do check out what we are doing, get in touch if you want to be involved or just receive updates from us, and let us know if we can help with your own projects to create a new Early Action approach to the work you do.
Rachel Ward-Newton is Asylum Guides national programme project manager at Refugee Action