Dr Jonathan Darling

This research represents the first endeavour to examine the impacts of recent attempts to privatise asylum dispersal accommodation and provision within the UK. The research explores how the changing policy landscape of dispersal is negotiated by urban authorities, asylum advocacy groups and asylum seekers, and seeks to understand how cities are experienced of those seeking asylum. The research informs policy debates at national and local levels over asylum provision and fosters wider public discussion over how cities may respond to the needs of asylum seekers.

Following the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act, the UK has followed a policy of dispersing asylum seekers across the country to a series of ‘dispersal zones’ for accommodation while awaiting decisions on their asylum status. There has since been tensions over the provision of services in different areas, debates over providing housing in rural detention centres and a growth in UK and European sanctuary movements which argue for greater rights for those awaiting refugee status or removal. These issues have received widespread media, political and public attention, and incited academic debate over the ways in which detention, deportation and dispersal control the lives of asylum seekers. In 2009 however, the UK Border Agency announced moves to increase the private provision of dispersal accommodation and to halt contracts with local authorities. Such a move effectively ends the provision of public housing to asylum seekers in a number of British cities.

Within this context, the research considers how debates over the privatisation of asylum provision relate to the wider politics of cities as places of competing interests, priorities and publics. As such, the research is focused upon exploring the ways in which UK cities have imagined their relation to asylum as a political issue through the varied discourses and views of policy makers and local authorities, asylum seekers and the wider public. The multi-sited research is centred upon four key dispersal cities, namely Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow and Sunderland. These cities have been selected due to their significant dispersal numbers and their important local differences. Such as, tensions and febrile policy debates over the provision of asylum accommodation in the cases of Birmingham and Glasgow, the context of Welsh devolution in the case of Cardiff, and a consideration of a smaller and less ethnically diverse city in the case of Sunderland. In each city a multi-method approach will encompass archival and media research, interviews with key figures in the refugee sector and local authorities, a public engagement discussion for stories of asylum, interviews with asylum seekers and activists and participant observation of asylum campaigns.

In exploring how cities are situated within discussions of asylum and how they are experienced by asylum seekers this research develops a critical account of how negotiations over policy, rights and provision may potentially direct urban futures in the UK. In exploring these questions, the research informs public policy on asylum dispersals, local authority provision of services and accommodation, and the work of asylum advocacy groups and community organisations. To do so, the research produces outputs intended for a range of audiences within and beyond higher education, including academic publications in key journals, a book proposal on the subject of cities and asylum, short articles for the policy and third sector community, and a project website with podcasts and blogs detailing the progress of the research and its key findings. The findings of the research will thus be communicated widely to policy audiences, asylum and refugee groups and the general public to ensure that the research has a significant impact in shaping understandings of urban asylum in the UK and providing a rich evidence base for future policy.

If you would like additional information about this case study, please contact:

Dr Jonathan Darling
Senior Lecturer in Human Geography
School of Environment, Education and Development
The University of Manchester
Manchester, M13 9PL
1.032, Arthur Lewis Building
Tel: +44 (0)161 306 6698
Webpage: http://staffprofiles.humanities.manchester.ac.uk/Profile.aspx?Id=jonathan.darling
ESRC Producing Urban Asylum project: http://www.producingurbanasylum.com