Media Officer Chris spends a day in the life in our role in the Destitute Asylum Seeker Service, coordinated by Scottish Refugee Council, British Red Cross and Refugee Survival Trust.


The DASS project is a vital lifeline for people when nobody else is there for them, and we empower people who would otherwise have given up hope. We assess people’s needs holistically, helping in all areas of need including healthcare, legal, social connections, food, education and accommodation. We support people through complex applications and refer people to specialist services. 

But what does this look like in practice? I spent a few days with the DASS team at SRC to learn more about how they work.

It’s early in the day, but the coffee is flowing, the reception is busy and the team are working hard already. They are stretched, with just one full-time staff member, and rely on the support of part-time staff and social workers on placement to provide the service. A young man has come to their attention. He was due in for an appointment the week before, but did not show up. Today, he forgot about it too, but is now on his way. His mind is elsewhere. The DASS team hope that they can get him off the streets and into emergency accommodation provided by Glasgow Night Shelter. But first, he needs to show up for his appointment. Which is easier said than done.

One of the caseworkers talks about these challenges. SRC is another meeting, another appointment, another organisation who might have to say no to him. For somebody who is struggling with feelings of hopelessness, it can be difficult to avoid disillusionment. Today, when he eventually arrives, the meeting is a quick one. They work through the referral form together, and he is able to access a bed at Glasgow Night Shelter, although finding his way there might still prove a challenge.

“Just simple things like not knowing where it is, forgetting where it is, or the day and time, and not asking for help, not being able to phone us, for example, and say “Actually I don’t know how to get there.”

He doesn’t present at the Night Shelter that night – he got lost trying to find it, and the language barrier meant he couldn’t ask for directions. The following day, amid many other appointments, his caseworker arranges to meet him and walk him there. In the meantime, a young woman breaks down in the office – isolated and destitute in the outskirts of Glasgow, she’s struggling to keep going. Our caseworker hands her a packet of tissues and sits with her, giving her all the time she needs before working through the necessary forms to begin a fresh claim. How anybody could be expected to deal with the bureaucracy of this system – and the distress it causes – alone baffles me.

It can be upsetting. I just want to tell people that everything’s going to be ok, but I can’t lie…

A couple’s support has been refused, because the Home Office has found a bank account in their name, set up by a friend, never used. The bank threatens to charge them money they don’t have, the Home Office takes away their money because the account exists. I hate to use the term Kafka-esque, especially when Kafka was so clearly describing reality, but the crushing absurdity of destitution is a horror show. You can see it in the eyes of this young, confused couple, struggling to look after their children – all that keeps them going is the small hope that things might improve, and the day-to-day distractions from the hostility of their situation.  Which is where the holistic nature of the DASS service is so important – it’s not just about ensuring that our clients keep going and survive, it’s about empowering people to thrive, against the odds.

Get the caseworkers talking long enough and the sadness they feel is quickly evident. But each day, they plaster on the smiles and keep going, dealing with some of Scotland’s most vulnerable people at their lowest ebb, and celebrating the little victories when they come.

Chris Pettigrew
Author: Chris Pettigrew