Alternatives to detention

There has been debate about alternatives to detention.

Common elements of a solution include:

[information from other countries]:
there are community-based approaches that have a casework and welfare focus,
and community-based approaches that primarily use restrictive conditions to encourage compliance.

Given the limited capacity of the detention estate, the most obvious alternative to detention is simply to not detain.

Evidence:
a lack of evidence that families systematically disappear pending judicial review or other legal appeals;
questioning about why it is so often used,

and why children are subjected to spending relatively long periods of time in the detention estate.

Electronic tagging:

the suggestion that electronic tagging can enable the authorities to keep a track on people pending final legal decisions;
o is clearly preferable to detention, but at present, there does not appear to be evidence of an effect of electronic surveillance on absconding rates. There has been widespread concern among refugee supporting agencies about the negative effect tagging can have on the lives of asylum-seekers.

Bail:
Bail can be considered as an alternative to detention, once detention has already been employed but is no longer justified. The lack of an automatic bail application (legislated for in 1999 but never implemented, and repealed in 2001) means that people remain in detention who would be bailed if they were to apply.
• The state funded Toronto Bail Programme works with people who have no family or other person to act as surety. Clients are released without bond to the programme and required to comply with regular reporting and unannounced visits. The programme reported a 91.6 per cent compliance rate for 2002-03.
• However, there is also evidence that bail without restrictive conditions is equally effective. Several homeless shelters in Toronto provide support and access to legal advice. ‘Hamilton House, for example, reports that 99 per cent of its residents have complied with the full asylum procedure. Matthew House reports that only three out of 300 residents have disappeared from its premises in the past five years.’
Reporting:
Asylum-seekers on temporary admission or bail are all subject to reporting conditions, which involves travelling to ‘reporting centres’ at regular intervals. Failure to report leads to withdrawal of support.
• While reporting is clearly preferable to detention, current reporting practice in the UK can be extremely invasive and difficult to comply with, especially for families with children.
• The Government has the opportunity to develop the reporting system into a more meaningful and positive process as part of the case owner approach. This would allow more sensitive reporting arrangements and for the reporting process to be directly linked with casework contact, where families could get information about their case, explanation of delays and opportunities to raise any concerns or difficulties they experience.
Holistic care:
In Sweden families with children are initially accommodated in a reception centre where their health and support needs are assessed, before being dispersed to regional ‘refugee centres’: flats organised round a central office.
A system in which there are closer links to a person with concern for the individual/family:a caseworker who:
• explains the determination process and their client’s rights within it
• ensures that the application is handled properly and that the client is able to
access interpreting and legal representation
• provides referrals to counselling and healthcare.
• Asylum-seekers are required to visit the caseworker at least once a month, when they receive a case update, their subsistence allowance and a review of their needs and risks assessments.
Reviews of the system suggest it is successful in both providing support and securing compliance with immigration decisions, including return. Detention is very rarely used, and the maximum detention period for children under 18 in Swedish legislation is three days, with a possible extension to six days in extreme circumstances. This system is reported to have brought significant cost reductions in the treatment of asylum-seekers.
In Canada, the state-funded Failed Refugee Project, run by the Greater Toronto Enforcement Agency, provides counselling and practical assistance to asylum-seekers whose claims have been refused. Clients of the project are given a 30-day period to plan return and organise their affairs. In 2001-02, 60 per cent of the project’s clients returned to their country of origin after this period, and a further 20 per cent after a follow up visit from the project. Thus, overall 80 per cent of the project’s clients returned without any need for punitive measures, detention or enforced removal.
Casework and welfare approach
The underlying principles of the casework and welfare approach to working with families at the end of the process should include:
access to an independent caseworker whose role includes:
• ensuring the family has legal representation

access to independent, high-quality legal advice to ensure that families with outstanding refugee or humanitarian protection needs are identified,

and in order to build trust and confidence in the asylum system ensuring that asylum seekers are not only informed of their rights and obligations but that they also understand them; including all conditions of their release and the consequences of failing to appear for a hearing;

ensuring the family’s housing, support and welfare needs are fully met

providing practical and emotional support to the family in planning for the future including, where appropriate, planning for return (this should include family tracing, support to wind up affairs in the UK and planning for housing, employment, school enrolment and rebuilding community links in their country of origin)

Families who cannot be returned
For many people return is not an option as a result of the situation in their country of origin. Where there is no prospect of returning a family safely, the Home Office should grant temporary renewable leave to remain. Attempting to force families to return with their children to conflict or post-conflict situations is not only impractical, but also puts children and families at risk of harm.
Granting of temporary leave to nationality groups who cannot return due to the political state of the country has been used in UK, but not for a while.
Some families cannot be returned safely as a consequence of the health or welfare needs of family members. When assessing whether a safe return is possible, the vulnerability of all family members should be taken into account, with particular emphasis given to the needs and interests of children. Families who cannot be returned for welfare reasons should be given indefinite or temporary leave as appropriate.
With particular reference to:
http://www.qarn.org.uk/homepage/2009/12/06/alternatives-to-detention-for-children-and-families
http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/resources/documents/media/17148_full.pdf

Sheila Mosley