One success only for asylum seekers scheme

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Indy Politics

A £1 million Government scheme to help failed asylum seekers return home was "mismanaged from start to finish" and resulted in just one family leaving the UK, a report found today.

The Children's Society said the scheme, which ran for less than a year, failed because of the Government's flawed and confused approach.

But the Government said it was a "a complex issue with no one-size-fits-all remedy" and lessons had been learned.

Lisa Nandy, of the Children's Society, said the project was "mismanaged from start to finish".

"It wasn't clear what the UK Border Agency was trying to achieve with the project, which caused considerable confusion from the outset," she said.

The news comes after it emerged earlier this month that just two homeowners had been helped to hold onto their properties by a flagship £285 million initiative to save families from repossession five months after it was launched.

Today's report by Ms Nandy described the project, known as the Millbank pilot, as a "missed opportunity" and said its design, which involved coercion and confusion about referrals, was "flawed".

It found there was a "climate of fear" within the centre and the "threat of destitution for those who did not agree to move ... meant the families who went did so under duress".

It also described families' move into the centre as "traumatic" and added it involved "serious lapses in communication and confidentiality".

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."

But Keith Vaz, chairman of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, said the pilot had been "a waste of money" because it was applied to families who had been in the UK waiting for a decision on their asylum claim for as long as 10 years, rather than intervening earlier in the process.

Mr Vaz told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There were good intentions, but the intervention happened too late. After you have been sat waiting for your case to be dealt with in a very long queue over a number of years, the last thing you want to do, the last thing you want to happen, is for someone to help you to leave."

Shadow immigration minister Damian Green told BBC Breakfast: "The Home Office spent a lot of our money on this project and didn't only waste that money, wasted the opportunity because, I think, finding alternatives to detention so you're not locking up children for weeks and weeks on end, which we probably shouldn't be doing, is a good idea. They just messed it up."

He said the scheme, run by the charity Migrant Helpline, had taken families out of communities where they were already living, rather than from out of detention centres, which led to them being "quite disturbed, quite frightened and so didn't co-operate".

He added the Government seemed to have been "completely half-hearted" about the scheme.