Guidance for Students and Researchers

We receive a high volume of requests from students, post-grads, film-makers and researchers who would like to access refugees or asylum seekers for their assignments or projects.

We respect your efforts and support your choice of subjects but will not always be able to help you. Those who work with the refugee community do not necessarily have a pool of refugee contacts readily available to engage with this kind of project.

Refugees and asylum seekers are known as a “hard to reach” group. This means that it is difficult for service providers such as ourselves to establish or maintain contact with them and even more difficult for researchers:


  • Refugees and asylum seekers often do not have English as their first language
  • They are often insecurely housed or homeless and therefore hard to keep in contact with
  • There are often health issues, especially mental health issues for those who have been traumatised
  • They can be living in fear of persecution from their home country and do not want publicity or to draw attention to themselves (especially political dissidents)
  • They have experienced discrimination for being ethnic minorities and also for being “asylum seekers” and so are reluctant to want to identify themselves in this way.

Refugee community groups may not return your emails or phone calls. This is because they are under-resourced and have to prioritise what they can do. They have also received many similar requests in the past, including students who have made offers to volunteer or support the group and then rescinded once their research is finished. There have also been previous incidences in some organisations where students have acted inappropriately and have soured the path ahead of you, no matter how noble your own intentions.

Charities and community groups working with refugees and asylum seekers often have detailed policies and procedures in place, such as those around working with vulnerable adults. These are put in place to protect the client group as they are deemed vulnerable and at greater risk of abuse than the general public. These policies may include requirements on vetting or training that you do not possess. These groups naturally take a protective stance towards their client group that overrides their ability to support your project.

Working with refugees and asylum seekers is an issue of trust. Many have experienced persecution or abuse by the authorities in their country of origin. Many have been detained and imprisoned in this country, accused of being bogus by the Home Office and branded as scroungers by the media. It takes time to build up trust and establish a reliable reputation. Students and researchers who want to work with these groups would profit from spending a few months volunteering and establishing their own credentials first before embarking on this kind of project. There are diminishing numbers of voluntary sector groups who are prepared to risk damaging their own hard-won reputations by advancing individuals that they do not know or who have not demonstrably invested anything in the community.

Getting in Touch

If you do contact us for assistance with this kind of project, please be as specific as possible about whom you are looking to reach (e.g. gender, nationality) but bear in mind that this will reduce your chances of finding someone. If we cannot help you we will refer you to another organisation. Please do not be offended if they do not respond to you. If we believe that we can help you we will approach people on your behalf and will notify you of our actions. If you do not hear anything further from us it means that our contacts have not responded to us. This is usually their polite way of saying no.


Any University of Brighton students can access the Community University Partnership Programme for additional support. Their student handbook contains a practical guide for anyone undertaking community research.

This advice has been presented with the intention of helping your project, rather than putting you off. Having a realistic appreciation of the opportunities will enhance your planning and avoid disappointment.

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