Read our research report on the impact of putting refugees and asylum seekers at the heart of services and policies that support them
What was the AVAIL project?
Often, people without lived experience of the issues refugees face design and provide refugee services. This can create a disconnect between what refugees need and the support they are given.
Standing for ‘Amplifying the Voices of Asylum seekers and refugees for Integration and Life skills’, the AVAIL project ran in the UK, Ireland, Latvia and Italy from 2018 to 2020. It gave a voice to the people who used our services, putting refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people at the heart of refugee integration in new communities and countries.
Our research report from the project, Powerful Participation: voices that change minds, policy, and practice, looks at the benefits, challenges and impacts of participatory approaches to refugee and asylum seeker integration.
The AVAIL project tested whether using co-production approaches lead to people feeling more positive and more included in their new communities.
We worked together to design activities, helped people feel more engaged and provided services that were relevant to the people who use them.
The project also explored and learned from different ways of involving people with lived experience in different contexts.
What did the AVAIL project do in the UK, Ireland, Latvia and Italy?
- In the UK, the VOICES network, helped refugees and asylum seekers speak out to change policy and practice. A life skills course was given through peer education, and peer research fed into plans for future support services. Chatterbox was a unique opportunity for refugees to teach their own language.
- In Ireland and Latvia, AVAIL tested if a community buddying programme that could help new arrivals integrate into their communities.
- In Italy, the project harnessed the power of radio to highlight the challenges and issues affecting refugees and asylum seekers. A refugee football team in Milan helped people integrate into their community through sport, playing in local tournaments and supporting and coaching another team of disabled Italian players. A peer mentoring scheme trained mentors living in refugee reception centres to guide and advise other asylum seekers. The focus was cultural awareness, language learning, and through sharing practical skills like cooking.
- In all four countries, refugees raised their voices to help improve services, policy and attitudes.
More about AVAIL in the UK
The VOICES network: refugees and asylum seekers speak out
VOICES ambassadors in Birmingham, Derby, Glasgow, Leeds, Leicester, London, Sheffield, and across Wales and south-east England, formed the project’s VOICES network.
With training and support, VOICES ambassadors worked together to speak out about issues that affect refugees and asylum seekers.
Sharing their own experiences, they advocated to change policy, used the media to change points of view and helped the Red Cross to improve our services through expert feedback.
I know lots of them think that, “Oh nobody understands us, and we can’t do anything about it.” But when they participate in VOICES they think, 'Yes there’s a way that we can say our things, our problems.' I think it’s a good way for them mentally more.A VOICES ambassador in Scotland
Chatterbox: refugees become language teachers
Chatterbox is an innovative new service that employs refugees to teach their own languages to people who want to learn them.
The AVAIL Project worked with them to deliver over 1,000 hours of language tuition and practice to a wide variety of British learners.
Refugees and asylum seekers designed and delivered an orientation and life skills course for newly arrived asylum seekers in Newport, South Wales, using a peer educator model.
With help from AVAIL staff, the peer educators learned the skills they needed to teach and guide attendees, using their lived experience to make the course more relevant.
Peer researchers with personal experience of being a refugee or asylum seeker worked alongside the AVAIL researcher. Together, they developed research questions, interviewed participants and analysed the data.
Using the co-production approach, we made sure that refugees’ own interpretation of what integration means was reflected in the research. This then explored the benefits, challenges and impact of using refugee and asylum seekers’ own experiences when designing projects to support them.
It changes me to the best because there is activity, a chance to think that you are not alone you are with people that is very important, if I did not apply for this, I could be affected psychologically and did not feel comfortable.AVAIL peer researcher