The UK Government has published its response to a report by the Children’s Society on the Alternatives to Detention pilot project in Kent, which was run by the UK Border Agency and the charity Migrant Helpline between October 2007 and August 2008.
During the project, refused asylum seekers with children were given housing and supported to leave the country voluntarily. The aim was to reduce the need for detention and enforced returns of families who the courts have decided do not require international protection. The project received £1 million in funding from the Home Office, but it resulted in the removal of only one family.
Phil Woolas, Border and Immigration Minister, said:
‘The Children’s Society and other lobby groups have pleaded with the UK Border Agency to pilot alternatives to the detention of children. This is exactly what we are doing.
‘Only one family who participated in the Kent pilot returned home – despite the fact that they were free to come and go and had access to all services they required.
‘The lessons we learnt have been used to design a new pilot currently running in Glasgow. This demonstrates our commitment to keep exploring alternatives to detention which increase voluntary returns and provide value for money to the taxpayer.
‘This is a complex issue with no one-size-fits-all remedy, which is why these pilots are so crucial.’
Although the pilot was not as successful as hoped, the UK Border Agency has already conducted an evaluation which has highlighted areas where similar projects could be improved in future. These improvements include:
- reviewing the eligibility criteria for families to take part in the project
- making sure that the project workers liaise more closely with UK Border Agency staff
- involving qualified social workers in the project.
All of these points have been taken into consideration when planning the new pilot project in Glasgow. Families participating in this project will stay in designated flats, where they will receive targeted help to prepare for their voluntary return to their home country.
Source UK Border Agency
Immigration Matters Comment
The tabloid press has reacted furiously to this pilot project today with scathing attacks on Mr Woolas.
They have predictably homed in on the £1 million spent on the project, but ignored other benefits and the good intentions, and the fact that it was a pilot.
That’s what pilot projects are for, to test the water and see if it works!
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