Contextual; Surviving the UK Immigration System

“Some people are empowered by the freedom of the modern world, while others are adversely affected and have no choice but to leave their homes and seek refuge in another country.”


British sociologist Martin Albrow defined globalisation as ‘all those processes by which the peoples of the world are incorporated into a single world society’ (Albrow, 1996). This is an ongoing process, dating back hundreds of years to the first great international voyages. However, the rapid acceleration brought by numerous technological innovations has presented a unique set of opportunities and challenges. Some people are empowered by the freedom of the modern world, while others are adversely affected and have no choice but to leave their homes and seek refuge in another country. Refugees experience a great amount of trauma, and designers have the power, as well as a human duty to help these people in need.

Figure 3. Refugee March

The world’s population is growing; 7.6bn up from 6.1bn in 2000 (Worldometers, 2018). Unequal demographic distribution sees the highest numbers of people concentrated in the areas least equipped to deal with the strain. Overpopulation in developing countries leads to increasing inequality, as there is insufficient employment and more competition for a limited supply of food and water. Politically fragile governments struggle to maintain control, and elsewhere corrupt heads of state prosper in climates where their immoral behaviour can go unchecked. Some suggest that insecurity resulting from the rapid changes of globalisation can provoke people to revert to ‘old sources of collective identity’ (Richmond, 2002). This regression into social division can increase the propensity for conflict, and it is estimated that eight out of ten of the worlds poorest countries have experienced large scale violence in the last few decades (Stewart, 2002). This has led to the forced displacement of over 68m people up to 2017 (United Nations Refugee Agency, 2018). 

Despite the myriad issues rooted in globalisation which affect less developed nations, the interconnectedness of the modern world can also offer salvation. Anyone with access to a mobile phone can report humanitarian crises around the globe, which increases pressure on governments and relief organisations to provide aid. For example, in 2015 a photograph was shared around the world, it showed three-year-old Syrian boy Alan Kurdi laying lifeless on a Turkish beach. Heightened media exposure provoked a response and Prime Minister David Cameron pledged that the UK would take 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020 (BBC, 2015). One wonders whether this humanitarian action would have been taken without the pressure that photograph created. 

By the end of June 2018, there were close to 160,000 displaced people living in the UK (United Nations Refugee Agency, 2018). These are split into two groups; refugees, who have been approved as having a legitimate cause for leaving their country of origin; and asylum seekers, who are awaiting confirmation of their refugee status from the Home Office. Unfortunately, the UK government denies refuge to many people each year: since 1991, more than half of decisions made have been refusals (Blinder, 2017). A staff member at a UK refugee charity explained that, in cases of refugee status being rejected and subsequent appeals being unsuccessful, people often ‘face deportation, destitution and become very vulnerable’ (Interviewee A, 2018).  

Even for those fortunate enough to be approved, life is far from easy. All too often, people are failed by a system which provides minimal support past their asylum being granted. Consider Samir, who told the New Statesman how he escaped the horrors of the Sudanese conflict and fled to the UK. Like two-thirds of refugees, the trauma he experienced has had a negative impact on his mental health, and he suffers from anxiety attacks (Burnett & Peel, 2001). Translators are difficult to source within the already strained NHS, so access to therapy is hindered. With technical innovation, this language barrier could be overcome. Therapy sessions could take place between patients and specialists without the need for a human translator, making help readily available for people who need it most like Samir.

Mental health is not the only issue faced by displaced people. A combination of the meagre £5.27 a day government benefits and limited access to the job market means that many refugees live in poverty (UK Government, 2018). Research has found that obtaining employment is a priority for many people who have been resettled in the UK, both for financial stability and integration purposes (All Party Parliamentary Group, 2017). However, there is very little in place to facilitate this. Samir was a successful carpenter before the conflict turned his world upside down. If he were able to advertise his skills to potential and willing employers on a dedicated online platform, then all parties could benefit. Refugees are all too often considered a burden on national economies but harnessing their skills would enable both economic growth and help them regain a sense of self-worth. 

It is important that refugees are not considered as a homogenous group, they are individual people with individual needs. However, as people in need, it is the responsibility of those more fortunate to help. A truly global society should focus on equality, and further technological advancements should not cater exclusively for the wealthy as they have done for many years. The future of connection should benefit those less fortunate, and designers can facilitate this. 


Albrow, M., 1996. The Global Age: State and Society Beyond Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press: Cambridge. 

All Party Parliamentary Group, 2017. Refugees welcome?, London: APPG. 

BBC, 2015. David Cameron: UK to accept ‘thousands’ more Syrian refugees. [Online] Available at:[Accessed 2 11 2018]. 

Blinder, S., 2017. Migration to the UK: Asylum, Oxford: Migration Observatory. 

Burnett, A. & Peel, M., 2001. Health needs of asylum seekers and refugees. British Medical Journal, Volume 322, p. 545. 

Richmond, A., 2002. Globalization: implications for immigrants and refugees, York: Taylor and Francis. 

Stewart, F., 2002. Root causes of violent conflict in developing countries. British Medical Journal, Volume 324, p. 342. 

UK Government, 2018. Asylum support. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 1 11 2018]. 

United Nations Refugee Agency, 2018. Asylum in the UK. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 25 10 2018]. 

United Nations Refugee Agency, 2018. Figures at a glance. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 25 10 2018]. 

Worldometers, 2018. Current world population. [Online] Available at:[Accessed 2 11 2018]. 

Interviewee A, 2018. Problems with UK immigration system [Interview] (31 10 2018). 

Figure 1. Marine Miltaire (2016). Migrant boat. [image] Available at: [Accessed 3 Nov. 2018] 

Figure 3. Ben Pruchnie (2015). Refugee march. [image] Available at: [Accessed 4 Nov. 2018]. 

Figure 4. William Pegler. (2018). Representation of homelessness. [image] From the library of W.Pegler.