Refugees trained for bureau role

Asylum seekers are being trained as Citizens Advice Bureau advisers in a ground-breaking project that puts to use the expertise of professionals who are not allowed to work while awaiting decisions on their claims.

The 18-month project in Glasgow, financed by the European Social Fund, could become a blueprint to be repeated across the UK, with asylum seekers serving members of their own communities as well as general clients.

Glasgow's Maryhill bureau is training a dozen English-speaking asylum seekers from countries including Iran, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Burundi, as volunteers. They have been given an overview of the UK and Scottish legal systems, as well as a short course on 'understanding Glaswegian'.

Glasgow has the highest concentration of asylum seekers outside of London.

Research by the Scottish Refugee Council has found that up to 80 per cent of the refugees in Maryhill, one of the city's most deprived areas, are professionals such as doctors, teachers, accountants and bankers.

Maryhill CAB manager Jean Cheyne said: "Since 2002, asylum seekers are no longer permitted to work while waiting for a decision on their claim, so volunteering at CAB would enable them to gain valuable work experience.

We know the expertise is out there.

"It's been estimated that 53 dialects of 33 languages are spoken in this area," said Cheyne. "Arabic and French are the most common, but we also have Somalians, Sri Lankans, Kosovars, Afghans and Polish gypsies."

Training co-ordinator Tim Cowen said Maryhill hoped to develop an induction package for other bureaux and other advice agencies across the UK.

A Citizens Advice Scotland spokesman admitted there was a risk that some of the advisers in the programme could be sent home if they lost their appeals. "However, if they do get a successful decision, their experience at CAB would help them integrate and find work here ... the other seven CAB offices in Glasgow will be looking at the initiative with great interest."

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