mother holding child c. Jenny Wicks
Best interest of children cruical photo c. J. Wicks

Our response to evaluation of the Glasgow Family Returns Pilot

On June 10 the UK Border Agency released an independent evaluation of the Family Returns Project, which has been running in Glasgow since June 2009.

The pilot was run by UK Border Agency, Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government. Its aim was to explore better ways of working with families who had come to the end of the asylum process, as an alternative to detention.

Independent evaluators recommended pilot close

The independent evaluation, by ODS Consulting was released on Friday 10 June. Its recommendation was that the pilot should be closed, mainly due to the fact that the UK Coalition Government has changed policy to avoid detaining families at the end of the asylum process.

Asylum system still to be improved

While we welcome the spirit in which the pilot was put in place – and its aims to put children’s needs at the top of the agenda – we argue that more emphasis must be placed on making the asylum system from beginning to end more child and family-friendly, and more trustworthy for anyone looking to seek safety.

Gary Christie, our Head of Policy and Communications, said: ‘We feel the project was genuinely set up by the Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council with the interests of children at its heart. It was a result of deep concern from communities in Glasgow about how people, in particular children, were being treated when the UK Border Agency turned down their claim for asylum and they were forcibly removed and detained. The aim of the project was to act as an ‘alternative to detention.’

‘The landscape has changed since the pilot was set up. After years of campaigning, the UK Coalition government pledged to end child detention in May 2010. Political, public and media concern in Scotland about the treatment of children had a significant role to play in this decision. We welcomed this move; however, there is still much work to be done to ensure the interests of the child, and the family, are at the heart of the entire asylum process from beginning to end.

Family returns pilot – in principle good, but in reality flawed

‘The family return pilot’s principle of working with families and understanding their fears and concerns of returning to their countries of origin was the right one. However, only working with families at the end of the process and moving those families to another location were deep flaws. 

‘The project didn’t engage with legal representatives or local communities and the UK Border Agency wrongly referred families who had been in Scotland for years into the project.

Lessons still to be learned from pilot

‘The pilot has, however, demonstrated valuable lessons about barriers to return and how children should be treated within the asylum system. We hope that UKBA and the new independent panel set up by the UK government to review the best interests of children in the removals process truly take on board what has been learnt in this pilot. We want to ensure children are never detained again and that their best interests and welfare issues are considered as priorities from the start of the asylum process, not just at the end.’

Read about the UK Border Agency’s new processes for handling family asylum claims

Read about the new Independent Family Returns Panel

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Chris Pettigrew
Author: Chris Pettigrew