The BBC has joined in the wave of criticism of the Government’s £1 million scheme to help failed asylum seekers and their children return home.
The pilot scheme, run by the charity Migrant Helpline in the Kent area, was aimed at reducing the number of children locked up in detention centres each year, but resulted in just one family leaving Britain.
The Children’s Society said it was a “real scandal” an opportunity to do more for the families had been missed.
But the Home Office defended the scheme saying it is committed to finding alternatives to detention.
2000 children locked up each year in detention centres
Campaigners had estimated that each year 2,000 children are locked up in immigration removal centres with their parents who have been refused asylum.
The Home Office denies this. For the first time, it revealed to the BBC on Wednesday that 991 children were detained at Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre during 2008.
Child detention has also been criticised by the Chief Inspector of Prisons, non-governmental organisations and the Children’s Commissioner for England.
In an attempt to reduce those numbers, the UK Border Agency set up the one-year pilot project.
The aim was for families who had reached the end of their asylum claims to stay at an open residential unit and their children would go to school locally while ways were found to help them return home.
The project, which began in November 2007, aimed to deal with 260 families.
But the one million pound scheme dealt with just 13 families and only one returned home.
The first family did not arrive until the following January and the pilot ended a month early.
The Children’s Society report, which evaluated the project, said referral criteria were “unclear” which resulted in unsuitable families being sent to the centre by the UK Borders Agency.
Many were referred too late in the asylum process and had laid down roots, enrolled their children in schools and had established a routine of normal life, it said.
As a result, they were allowed to return to the community.
It also said the project was not well publicised, which led to confusion at the UK Border Agency about its purpose.
Other faults highlighted in the report were a lack of clear objectives from the start and flaws in the design of the project.
The author of the report, Lisa Nandy, said:
“The project was mismanaged from start to finish.
“The money would have been well spent; it’s just a real scandal that the opportunity was missed,” she added.
Immigration Matters Comment
The media continue to slam this pilot project with more attacks on Border and Immigration Minister Mr Woolas.
The headlines focus on the £1 million spent on the project, but ignore the benefits and intentions of the scheme, as well as the fact that it was a pilot.
Pilot projects are set up to try new things, see if they work and make adjustments based on the findings, which is what the Government appear to be doing.
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