Alternative to detention pilot 'a missed opportunity'

24 June 2009

The Children’s Society and Bail for Immigration Detainees today call on the Government and the UK Border Agency to learn lessons from the pilot A2D (Alternative to Detention) project, which took place in Millbank, Kent from 2007-2008.

In a report released today, The Children’s Society and Bail for Immigration Detainees state that the A2D pilot was a missed opportunity to find a humane and effective alternative to the detention of children and families for immigration purposes in the UK. Over 2000 children are detained for immigration purposes each years, and both organisations believe this is inhumane, unnecessary and a waste of public funds.

The evaluation highlights flaws in the planning and management of the pilot, which led to the project failing to reduce the number of children going through detention and to increase the number of families voluntarily returning to their country of origin when they reached the end of the asylum process. In particular the evaluation highlights how families were inappropriately referred to the project, who were not able to return to their country of origin for a variety of reasons during the pilot and so made the job of those running the pilot virtually impossible.

Lisa Nandy, Policy Adviser at The Children’s Society, comments:

“Although we strongly supported the Government's decision to set up the Millbank pilot, we have serious concerns about the way it was designed and implemented.  We believe it is vital that the UKBA should use the lessons from Millbank to inform all future projects which provide alternatives to detention, including the new Glasgow pilot which UKBA is managing in partnership with the Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council.

“We know from our work with the children and families being held in immigration detention the immense harm and distress that it causes, and we believe all efforts need to be put into finding alternatives to detention for children and families that result in the best possible outcomes both for the families and the UK Border Agency.”

Amanda Shah, Assistant Director at Bail for Immigration Detainees, comments:
'The problems in the Millbank pilot must not deter the Government and the UK Border Agency from developing alternatives to detention. Evidence from other countries, including Australia and Sweden, shows that alternatives to detention can work extremely well if they are developed and managed properly. 

“As well as being more humane than locking children up in detention centres, the evidence suggests that these alternatives are both more effective in encouraging families to return home voluntarily and cheaper than detention, which costs over £130 per day for each child.”

Notes to Editors:

For more information or to request a copy of the report, please contact
Rachael Bruce, The Children's Society, tel: 020 7841 4422, email rdb@childsoc.org.uk

Outcry! campaign
The Children’s Society and Bail for Immigration Detainees are currently campaigning to end the immigration detention of children and their families. Funded by the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, we are campaigning together under the banner OutCry!

The Children’s Society
The Children's Society is a leading children's charity committed to making childhood better for all children in the UK. Visit www.childrenssociety.org.uk

Bail for Immigration Detainees
Bail for Immigration Detainees is a human rights charity challenging immigration detention in the UK. It provides free legal advice to detained asylum seekers and migrants to help them secure their release and it campaigns to end arbitrary detention. Visit www.biduk.org

The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund
The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund continues the Princess’ humanitarian work in the UK and overseas. By giving grants to organisations, championing charitable causes, advocacy, campaigning and awareness raising, the Fund works to secure sustainable improvements in the lives of the most vulnerable people in the UK and around the world. Visit
www.theworkcontinues.com

Immigration detention of children
An estimated 2,000 children are detained each year with their parents.1 Detained under the same policy framework as adults, they are held in one of three Immigration Removal Centres: Dungavel House in Lanarkshire, Tinsley House near Gatwick Airport and Yarl's Wood, the largest of the three centres, near Bedford. They can be detained at any stage of the asylum process, without time limit and without judicial oversight.

The Government’s official position is that children are detained for the shortest possible time, only as a last resort. The experience of NGOs including our own is that this is not the case.2 Between October 2008 and April 2009 the average period of detention for the families we have supported was over six weeks.

The Children’s Society and Bail for Immigration Detainees are opposed to the detention of children and families for immigration purposes.

History of the Milbank Pilot

In June 2007 the Immigration Minister announced a pilot scheme to trial an alternative to detention for families with children. The scheme would focus on families who had been refused asylum and were facing the prospect of return. Initially its objective was simply to explore alternatives to detention.3 Later this was defined as ‘to reduce the number of children going through detention and to increase the number of families returning to their country of origin.’4

The pilot scheme at Ashford, in Kent started in November 2007, although the first family was not admitted until January 2008. The supported accommodation for families was provided at Millbank, a centre formerly used to provide initial accommodation to asylum seekers who had recently arrived in the UK. The centre was managed jointly by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and the charity Migrant Helpline.

The scheme was intended to run for 6-12 months as a pilot. In the end it ran for just ten months with families present in the centre for the last eight of those. The intention was that families would stay at the centre for 4-6 weeks during which time they would be given information about voluntary return to their country of origin. They would be free to come and go, and their children would be educated in local schools.

This report

This report was conducted by Lisa Nandy for The Children’s Society and Bail for Immigration Detainees following concerns expressed by members of the RCC about the Millbank pilot. It was also prompted by concern that the independent evaluation commissioned by the UK Border Agency would take little account of the experiences of children and their parents.

It is based on interviews with families, evidence gathered from legal representatives and charity advocates, a visit to the accommodation centre at Millbank and information provided to us by UKBA officials. The information was collected between December 2007 and September 2008.