On Tuesday 10 November 2020, Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) and the University of Edinburgh School of Health in Social Science held an online launch event for over 60 people for their new report: Exploring the factors that influence harmful alcohol use through the refugee journey: a qualitative study. We were delighted to welcome the authors of the report, Dr Fiona Cuthill and Dr Steph Grohmann as speakers at the event, as well as Michelle Major from Homeless Network Scotland, and Mahdi Saki from Glasgow Night Shelter for Destitute Asylum Seekers, who both gave remarks.

This important report draws on interviews with people with current experience of seeking asylum in the UK and sheds important light on a little understood topic. In particular, it highlights how refugees and asylum seekers who do experience harmful alcohol use in the UK rarely arrive with these issues, but rather develop them as a result of destitution, or being placed under a condition of 'No Recourse to Public Funds' (NRPF). The report also finds that the prohibition of work and paid employment while people wait for their asylum claim to be determined contributes to mental ill-health and a sense of de-personalisation, while long waiting times, social isolation, boredom and poverty contribute to harmful drinking. Participants identified the most important factor deciding between health and harmful alcohol use as meaningful activity, social support, and connection to third sector organisations, churches, and/or volunteer organisations.

Key recommendations from the report include:

  • That the UK government should allow people seeking asylum to work and engage in meaningful activity while their claim is being processed.
  • That when asylum is refused, people should either be immediately removed to their home country or continue to be given acommodation so that destitution - a trigger for harmful alcohol use - is not the immediate result of a refused claim.
  • That culturally appropriate mental health services to manage trauma be developed.
  • That education programmes for staff in third sector organisations are supported, so that staff can better understand harmful alcohol use among people seeking asylum and refugees.