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Why refugee-focused charities need the help of academia

Dr Nazee Akbari

CEO of New Citizens’ Gateway

03 March 2022

During the past few years, the world has experienced the highest number of displaced people and forced migrants [1]. Many have travelled to the UK to seek sanctuary and continue to do so. The Covid-19 pandemic imposed many new challenges for asylum seekers and refugees. The already stringent asylum process became even more isolating, services became sparse, and support was more difficult to access, whilst the asylum process slowed down with the pace of the world. Restrictions not only put extra pressure on individuals trying to seek help and start their journey of integration, but on grass-roots organisations like our organisation, New Citizens’ Gateway, who provide vital support to this client group.

New Citizens’ Gateway (formerly known as Barnet Refugee Service) is an independent registered charity working in partnership with individuals and agencies. Through provision of our Holistic Model of Support, our main aim is to support and empower refugees and asylum seekers to rebuild their lives with services such as volunteering and employment, mentoring, advice, counselling for adults and children, youth activities, ESOL classes, eco-therapy and psycho-social activities and more. We strive to help to reduce health inequalities, social exclusion, poverty and enable positive integration. To provide such services, we are heavily dependent on external funding.

In comparison to other charities, refugees and asylum seekers are considered as one of the most unpopular causes amongst the general public [2]. As the CEO of New Citizens’ Gateway, with over 20 years’ experience of working in this field and in fundraising, I am convinced that funding applications backed up by academic research and findings are always the more successful applications. However, we do not always readily have access to such data. There is a wealth of robust research carried out on this client group, but so much of that helpful research stays behind the closed doors of masters or doctoral theses, or behind paywalls.

In discussions with many funders, I have received feedback that funding applications backed up by research data gives them confidence in our identified needs and requests. Since academic research has been peer-reviewed and passed the academic quality control process, funders can be confident that the proposal is reliable and robust. Charities may collect quantitative and qualitative data through service provision but do not have the resources or expertise to carry out rigorous data analysis. Evidence-based recommendations which are in line with our propositions further strengthen our argument and applications backed by academic research are more likely to be successful. Moreover, besides fundraising, in-depth qualitative research provides valuable insight which can impact our project design and delivery and improvement of services, keeping the input and needs of our service users as the focal point.

Despite the current difficult political environment, we remain hopeful when reflecting upon the UK’s refugee movement. We are more determined than ever to stand with the many UK citizens of all backgrounds who want our nation to respond with humanity and justice to people seeking protection from persecution.

Since the pandemic, many charities saw their entire business model shut down overnight and that meant that many organisations including New Citizens’ Gateway were left facing increased demand for their services from vulnerable communities in need of unparalleled levels of support. In my opinion, collaborating with researchers and academics is a vital step in providing a more comprehensive and nuanced service to a wider number of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, particularly during this difficult time. I hope that organisations like ours will be able to access more research and gain support from larger number of academics who share similar values.



In this story

Hanna Kienzler

Hanna Kienzler

Professor of Global Health

Guntars  Ermansons

Guntars Ermansons

Lecturer in Social Science, Health & Medicine

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