The focus of this research was to understand more fully the reasons for refugees deciding to become British citizens (or not). In summary, the research identified four key reasons for refugees deciding to become British citizens (or not). First, our research found that refugees identify instrumental reasons for taking British citizenship. This was associated with gaining voting rights, access to employment, facilitating travel and securing the legal status of children. Refugees noted multiple instrumental reasons and identified their own personal hierarchy of reasons. The project also found evidence of refugees who felt they had little or no choice in becoming British citizens. Second, the research identified security as being of great importance to refugees when making decisions about citizenship. The findings suggest that the granting of five year refugee status impacts negatively upon individuals. This is not only on a practical level, where individuals may be prevented from entering the workforce, but also on an emotional and psychological level, as respondents expressed fear and uncertainty over their future. It is clear, therefore, that refugee status does not currently guarantee a sense of security or permanence. Indeed, it can be this sense of fear and the need for a secure legal status that drives refugees to become British citizens. The five year period of protection can therefore be seen as ‘freezing’ the lives of refugees, which will ultimately impact upon their integration and settlement. Third, many respondents raised the issue of belonging, which links to the relationship between citizenship and integration. Many refugees felt that becoming a British citizen may enhance a sense of belonging or inclusion within society. There was a strong desire to be accepted by society, experience equality and not to be identified as ‘different’. Nevertheless, as some respondents have experienced, legal citizenship does not always necessarily lead to a sense of full integration into society. Indeed, some interviewees noted that even if they are or do become British citizens, they may still experience a gap in terms of sense of belonging. Finally, refugees wished to secure a permanent legal status in the UK and becoming a British citizen was regarded as one way of achieving this. This means that progressing from being an asylum seeker to refugee to British citizen is regarded as a key way to access increasing rights, including legal and instrumental rights as well as a sense of security and belonging.
Beyond the four key topics identified, additional findings can be noted. This research highlights a number of practical problems facing refugees who wish to become British citizens. A key issue raised by respondents was the cost of citizenship relating not only to the tests but also the application fees. The research also uncovered the important role of labelling and in particular the enduring label of ‘refugee’. Whilst it is logical that some individuals do not want to be associated with a label that has negative connotations, it must be recognised that other individuals, even when British citizens, still strongly hold the refugee identity.