The Millbank Pilot was a missed opportunity to find out which factors help and hinder sustainable solutions for families at the end of the asylum process. The aims should have been clear at the outset and the evaluation method fully worked out.
The design of the project was flawed. In particular two things stand out.
The first is the element of coercion for families taking part. It has been demonstrated that coercion does not work when dealing with families in crisis by national and international schemes established to work with families refused asylum.
The second major flaw was the confusion about referrals, which led to inappropriate referrals, and appeared to make the job of those running the pilot virtually impossible
Listening to the stories of families in the pilot, it was clear they had felt unsupported during their time in the UK and were confused about this latest initiative. An alternatives pilot cannot work in isolation from wider system change because by the time those families had reached the end of the process they were not able to trust or engage with the process effectively.
International experience provides evidence that successful schemes work in a supportive, transparent way throughout the asylum process, so that families and their advisers understand the system and, at the end of the process, feel confident that they have been given a fair hearing. It is difficult to see how a pilot established with families who have already been through the process, and lack confidence in that process, would be able to reverse that situation. We suggest that a more effective alternative to detention pilot would provide independent support to families from the first day of their asylum claim so that if they were refused asylum the trusting relationship that is needed would already exist.