A Home of Their Own: A Case Study of an Ethnically Diverse Community and Placement of People Seeking Asylum

Richards, Louise M. M. (2009). A Home of Their Own: A Case Study of an Ethnically Diverse Community and Placement of People Seeking Asylum. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000ea3e


My thesis on asylum dispersal is written within an emotionally charged atmosphere concerning immigration, asylum, multiculturalism and Islamic extremism. In this climate of unreasoned attitudes towards asylum seeking generally, my main aim was to qualitatively investigate, via one case study area - Romantown - the persistent policy and political problem of where to place asylum seekers.

The suitability of Romantown, as a dispersal area, has ultimately concurred with polls that suggested dispersal to ethnically diverse areas created less public anxiety and reduced the possibility of violence and unrest (Flynn, 2003). As a dispersal site, Romantown also reflects the recommendations on suitability made by the Audit Commission regarding ethnic composition, the existence of refugee networks and existing places of worship for new asylum populations (Robinson et al, 2003, Audit Commission, 2000c). So the research questions I have focussed on are: 1. Do ethnically diverse communities like Romantown make better dispersal sites for asylum seekers? 2. What are the particular social and cultural dynamics that exist within this community in relation to asylum seeker dispersal? 3. How and in what ways have the range of agencies (statutory, voluntary, faith/refugee based) in Romantown engaged in the governance of multiculture and asylum seeker integration?

The fieldwork findings from the case study however revealed a more complex picture. Firstly there were elements of hospitality and tension between community residents and asylum seekers, and secondly whilst community agency management was very extensive with a number of committed individuals, overall it was chaotic and generally badly funded. Key findings from Chapters Five and Six presented unexpected cultural divisions between Sikh and Pakistani residents and Kurdish asylum seekers although ultimately dialogue was managed through competent agency and faith community intervention.

With certain caveats, as discussed, Romantown did emerge as a strong, competent community, willing and able to manage the dispersal of new settlements of asylum seekers despite incidences of resident disapproval and limited resources. The case study revealed the existence of robust and active informal agency structures alongside the more visible formal ones. However, this resulted in the workings of community governance being harder to recognise as asylum groups retreated away from the public arena to form their own forum.

The ethnographic approach used here was able to illuminate the micro-social of community dynamics crucial to this line of enquiry which is complemented by the unique position of resident/researcher.

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