A year has passed since our office closed its doors, but that doesn’t mean that our work has stopped. On the anniversary of the first lockdown, we caught up with some of the amazing frontline staff who have continued delivering vital services during the pandemic. Here, Integration Adviser, Robyn Moffat-Wall, shares the highs and lows of a year spent supporting refugees from her front room.
What’s the best thing about working for Scottish Refugee Council?
I love my colleagues so much! We’re like a family and we’re all here for the same reason. It’s lovely working with people who have shared values. I also love being able to give good news to our clients, or when they give good news to us. We provide a 12-month service so we form quite close bonds. Seeing them progress is just the nicest thing.
Tell us a bit about your job
The Refugee Integration Service provides a holistic support service for newly granted refugees. The people I work with are going from being an asylum seeker – unable to work or claim benefits – to suddenly having leave to remain and all these rights and responsibilities.
The UK has a lot of bureaucracy and red tape. To get a job, you need a National Insurance number, which you have to apply for. You need ID and a bank account, but for that you need proof of address and almost all refugees will go through a period of homelessness.
I help clients to understand their rights and access support with finance, employment, housing, English classes and making social connections. Social connections have been a huge one over the last year because everyone has been very isolated.
How has Covid-19 affected your role?
Massively! The biggest impact has been not seeing clients in person. You end up missing lots of the non-verbal communication that lets you know if someone is happy or upset.
I also really miss my colleagues. My job can be quite emotionally difficult. In the office, when you’re struggling, you can have a cuppa with colleagues and then move on. When you’re working from home, it can be hard to set boundaries and manage your workload. Yoga has really helped. I try to do it every day – and to get outside every morning.
What has been the biggest challenge?
It’s really hard to explain things – like Universal Credit, how to set up a bank account, or apply for a driving licence – when you’re not in the same room, especially when you’re speaking a different language. I’ve had to really teach myself how to do these things so that I can guide my clients over the phone. It’s given me so much respect for remote IT support – those people are angels!
Are there any positives?
One good thing is that very few clients have been made homeless in comparison to ‘business as usual’. When you get your refugee status you normally have 28 days to vacate your property. That’s just not long enough. Most people have to apply for homelessness and move into temporary accommodation. Now, because of Covid, clients are allowed to stay in their asylum accommodation until the council can source them somewhere.
This situation has forced the external agencies that we work with – which are notoriously inflexible – to become less rigid. The Home Office have had to adapt their eviction policy, HMRC had to rethink how they accept evidence for benefits, Glasgow City Council has had to work in a much more proactive way. Hopefully these changes aren’t just temporary.
This post was originally published on Scottish Refugee Council.