£1m failed asylum seeker scheme a failure

Its efforts resulted in just one Iranian family volunteering to leave the UK
25 June 2009: Already facing criticism for concentrating more on deportation of foreign national prisoners, than failed asylum seekers, the Home Office is finding itself amidst another controversy.
The Home Office spent £1million on a scheme aimed at encouraging failed asylum seekers to return home. Its efforts resulted in just one Iranian family volunteering to leave the UK. The others refused to leave the country on their own.

The government was quick to react to the report by the Children’s Society on the Alternatives to Detention pilot project in Kent run by the Border Agency and charity Migrant Helpline between October 2007 and August 2008.

It said the aim was to reduce the need for detention and enforced returns of families, who the courts have decided do not require international protection.

Under the project, refused asylum seekers with children were given housing and supported to leave the country voluntarily.

Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said the lessons they learnt have been used to design a new pilot currently running in Glasgow.  “This is a complex issue with no one-size-fits-all remedy, which is why these pilots are so crucial.”

Officials said the Glasgow scheme, which began earlier this month, would be on a smaller scale, with room for just five families at a time. The families participating in the project would stay in designated flats, where they would receive targeted help to prepare for their voluntary return to their home country.

The UK Border Agency has already conducted an evaluation, which has highlighted areas where similar projects could be improved in future. The 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; and involving qualified social workers in the project.

On the failed project, the government admitted the system “did not produce the outcomes we had hoped for”.

It is now evident a 260-bed accommodation block, which was taken over for the year-long project remained vacant for weeks at one point of time. It was closed last year, much earlier than initially planned.

The report highlighted flawed and confused objectives, and poor communications within the Home Office’s UK Border Agency. Rather than targeting the new arrivals, the concentration was on those unlikely to leave, being in the UK for as much as 10 years.

Only 13 families took part in the project, the first not arriving until January 2008. In the end just one was persuaded to return home.

Even after weeks of training and support, the others, believed to include Afghans, Somalis and Iraqis, simply refused to leave voluntarily.

Reacting to the developments, shadow immigration minister Damian Green blamed the government for being “completely half-hearted” about the scheme.

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