• ‘A Feeling of Freedom’: The Unmet Transport Needs of Refugees and People Seeking Asylum

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    • ‘A Feeling of Freedom’: The Unmet Transport Needs of Refugees and People Seeking Asylum
    • by David Kelly
      Director for Scotland

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    Community Transport is all about addressing the unmet transport needs of all of the diverse communities in every part of our country.

    We’ve been working in partnership with our friends at the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) and Maryhill Integration Network (MIN) to better understand and improve the experiences of refugees and people seeking asylum of Scotland’s transport system.

    Over the course of several months, through face-to-face and online community outreach and engagement, we’ve talked to 240 people with lived experience, a diverse group of refugees, people seeking asylum and New Scots.

    In Spring 2023, we convened a focus group with 12 participants in Glasgow alongside MHF. During Summer and early Autumn 2023, MHF conducted an online survey with 228 respondents from across Scotland, although the majority are based in Glasgow, our biggest city.

    We’ve now published a new report analysing the data, evidence and testimonials we’ve gathered to highlight the most important issues and propose recommendations for change as a first step towards collaboration and partnership working with our members, policymakers and stakeholders at national and local level.


    Affordability was the biggest issue raised during our research. Public transport is too expensive for most refugees and people seeking asylum.

    People seeking asylum are prevented from working by Home Office regulations and have to survive on a fixed daily allowance of £6.77. Bus day tickets in Glasgow, where most of the community lives, are typically between £5.40 and £7.25.

    More than four in five people seeking asylum in Scotland have been unable to use public transport due to its cost and half cannot afford it all or almost all of the time. Shockingly, one in five people seeking asylum told us they can only afford to use public transport in an emergency.

    Free Bus Travel

    Some even have to choose between eating and travelling. One online survey respondent told us:

    [When I need to go somewhere] I don’t buy food and don’t eat and pay my money
    just on transportation.

    We therefore warmly welcome the announcement by Patrick Harvie MSP, Minister for Active Travel, on 28 October that the Scottish Government will invest £2m in free bus travel for everyone in Scotland who is seeking asylum, as called for by MIN’s excellent long-standing campaign and backed by our report.

    Essential for Daily Life

    The testimonials in our new report demonstrate how important buses are for people seeking asylum as an essential part of their daily lives, but also how unaffordable tickets are. The overwhelming majority of refugees and people seeking asylum rely on the bus to get around.

    Transport is really important for refugees. Especially for those who come to the country as asylum seekers, as they don’t have the choice to have a car or take a taxi. We must use the bus, otherwise we have to walk.

    Access to public transport is an essential part of daily life – and an enabler of integration. 2 in 3 rely on public transport to get to the shops to buy essentials. 60% rely on public transport to attend social activities and gatherings. Over half rely on public transport to attend legal and medical appointments or education.

    The buses help us a lot to live: to go to the pharmacy, to the GP, to the appointments, to go shopping.

    Mental Health and Wellbeing

    They see buses as vital for their mental health and wellbeing, often at a time of anxiety, uncertainty and homesickness. For one online survey respondent:

    Going out and meeting other people helps me to forget my trauma a little.

    77% say free bus travel for people seeking asylum would have a positive impact on their mental health.

    When I’m able to move by bus it gives me a feeling of freedom… I’m not allowed to
    work. [Free bus travel would] enable me to meet and talk with people and friends to
    speak about my problem or to ask for advice.

    We believe free bus travel will be transformative in the lives of people seeking asylum, giving them a “feeling of freedom” and helping them integrate in Scottish society.

    The success of the campaign is credit to the community’s determination and the hard work of Pinar Aksu and her colleagues at MIN. However, there is much more still to do to make sure public transport in Scotland is accessible and affordable for all of our people and communities.

    Safety and Trust

    Our report also calls on the government and bus operators to do more to ‘end discrimination, harassment and racism on public transport’, improve access to information and integrate ticketing and services to make Scotland’s buses, trains, trams, ferries and subway safe and welcoming for everyone.

    I have been exposed to racism more than once.

    5% have had negative interactions with public transport staff. 3% feel unsafe on public transport. People of colour are more likely to face discrimination or harassment. Almost everyone in our focus group had a story to share about being made to feel unwelcome on public transport – by fellow passengers, but also by drivers or conductors.

    He [the bus driver] looked at me with hate. He didn’t want me on the bus.

    In Scotland in 2023, this is unacceptable. We need this to change. We look forward to working with the Scottish Government, as well as local authorities, bus operators, passengers and partners, to make this happen.

    Community Transport’s Role

    There are already great examples of how Community Transport is meeting the transport needs of refugees and people seeking asylum.

    The African Community Centre operate a community car scheme based in Swansea that provides much needed transport for the city’s asylum seekers. The cost of public transport is a huge burden for asylum seekers and is often unobtainable. The African Community Centre, set up in 2017 with the support of CTA, aim to change this with accessible, affordable and understanding transport.

    Thousands of Ukrainians have arrived in Scotland since Russia’s invasion in February 2022. 90% have entered through Edinburgh’s Welcome Hub. The Edinburgh Community Transport Operators Group – an informal group of operators at Pilton Equalities Project, South Edinburgh Amenities Group, Handicabs Lothian, Lothian Community Transport Services and The Dove Centre – have been an essential part of this support, providing onward travel from Edinburgh Airport to their accommodation, as well as ongoing support with transport for those staying in the city.

    But can our sector do more – to serve these communities and to engage with them? Can more Community Transport operators create and deliver projects which specifically support refugees and people seeking asylum? And can CTA support this work? We think so.

    I’d love to hear from you. Drop me an email at david.kelly@ctauk.org.

    Download Our Report

    For all of the data, evidence and testimonials, you can download our report here.

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