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Blog: How Volunteers Help Us Challenge Policies

Avi Kay
Anne Tommerbakk, Jenni Whitaker, Savannah Dowden

An important part of HBF’s work is our research aimed to influence policy and guidelines on supporting survivors. The support we receive from volunteers to contribute to this work is incredibly valuable. Legal team volunteers Jenni Whitaker and Savannah Dowden made vital contributions to our disability and protection report published last month.

The report looks both at disability as a basis for refugee protection and the accessibility of the UK asylum process for disabled asylum seekers. It aims to highlight the substantive and procedural challenges faced by disabled people claiming asylum, calling for the need for an overarching framework on disability and international protection.

Let’s take a look at Jenni and Savannah’s contributions to the report and how they valued the experience:

What was your role in creating the report?

Jenni: My role was twofold. Firstly, I assisted Jennifer and David with the main report through legal research, some drafting, proof-reading and formatting assistance. Secondly, I worked with Savannah to research and draft a supplementary document for the report, which considered the legal cases of HBF clients and the approach to disability taken by the Home Office, and then the courts, in each instance. This served as an ‘in practice’ demonstration that a disability-sensitive framework within Home Office decision making of asylum claims is so necessary and needed.

Savannah: I began working with Jennifer, David, and Jenni after the main report was mostly completed, so my role entailed helping Jenni research and write the supplementary report. The legal examples we provided highlight the importance of increasing awareness of the discrimination faced by disabled people claiming asylum in the UK and encourage the Home Office to take concrete steps to combat this discrimination.

What was the highlight of working on the project, and how did you feel you had an impact through it?

Savannah: I really enjoyed working on this report in general, but for me the highlight was learning how to formulate a policy report. I just graduated from university with a degree in Public Policy, so this is something I have always been interested in, but this was my first time writing a policy report for an organisation rather than for a school assignment. It was challenging, but I learned so much from Jennifer and David and it ended up being an incredibly valuable experience. I also really enjoyed working alongside Jenni! 

Jenni: Personally, I really enjoyed the research aspect of the project and I learnt a lot (and from the best!) about Home Office policy and practice in asylum claims involving disability.

When the report was launched there was a webinar which was attended by HBF’s Professor Cornelius Katona and Ricardo Pla Cordero who works in Disability Inclusion at the UNHCR, as well as Jennifer and David. The potential impact of the report was felt through the general attendance and the engagement of this webinar.

When I was volunteering with HBF pre-Covid I assisted with another policy report which provided recommendations to the Home Office, and the key recommendation in that report is now Home Office policy, indicating the significant impact HBF’s policy reports can have. I hope and look forward to this report having a similar impact on current Home Office policy.

Thank you to Jenni and Savannah for providing your reflections!

Read the full report published by Jennifer Blair and David Neale here.