Show caption The recently opened Derwentside immigration and removal centre in Consett, County Durham where female asylum seekers are detained. Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images Immigration and asylum Scheme not to detain women seeking asylum leads to only one staying in UK UNHCR-backed pilot sought to process claims in the community from those whose initial applications had been rejected Diane Taylor Mon 24 Jan 2022 09.00 GMT Share on Facebook
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A groundbreaking scheme overseen by UNHCR to process women’s asylum claims in the community rather than by locking up the applicants in detention has led to only one being granted leave to remain in the UK, according to a report.
The aim of the pilot scheme was not to boost granted rates of asylum claims but to demonstrate that the asylum process could be successfully managed in the community without the need to lock women up, something the United Nations refugee agency said it had succeeded in doing in the report published on Monday.
However, participants hoped that the support and access to legal advice the project offered would help them secure the right to remain in the UK.
The sample size of the pilot was small, with initial plans to recruit 50 women reduced to just 20 taking part in the two-year experiment, due to the pandemic.
The women involved had all had initial asylum claims refused and had it not been for the pilot scheme would have found themselves detained in Home Office detention centres.
They received accommodation, £38 a week, access to legal advice and support from Action Foundation, a refugee charity that worked with the Home Office to administer the pilot scheme. UNHCR was involved in discussions about the design of the scheme and oversaw its monitoring and evaluation.
At the end of the scheme four women agreed to return voluntarily to their home countries, eight were told there were no options for them to remain in the UK, five left the pilot before their asylum claims were resolved and two left the pilot without informing Action Foundation.
Just weeks before the publication of the evaluation of the pilot scheme into alternatives to detaining women the Home Office started to detain women at a new women-only immigration detention centre – Derwentside in County Durham. It is the first new women’s detention centre since Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire was opened two decades ago. The Guardian has received reports that so far only a handful of women have been detained there.
The numbers of men and women detained has declined sharply in recent years but human rights campaigners fear the Home Office is going to start increasing the numbers locked up.
In the evaluation report Home Office officials said that, along with the newly opened Derwentside, the department will continue to maintain spaces at three other detention centres, including Yarl’s Wood, to hold female detainees, ensuring that the Home Office has “the geographical footprint and resilience to meet future need”.
Women for Refugee Women, which advocates for women in immigration detention, has started legal action against the Home Office over Derwentside about its compliance with equality laws.
Gemma Lousley, policy and research coordinator at Women for Refugee Women, said: “We urge the Home Office to build on the alternative to detention scheme evaluated by this report by ending the use of detention for women immediately and resolving their cases in the community instead.”
The evaluation report, which UNHCR commissioned from NatCen, found that the women involved experienced more stability and better health and wellbeing outcomes as a result of being in the community rather than in detention centres and that there was no decrease in compliance with the immigration system.
However, there was a misapprehension among the women that joining the pilot scheme would boost their chances of getting a positive decision on their asylum claim.
UNHCR urged the Home Office to only use detention as a measure of last resort and to strengthen alternatives to detention.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The public rightly expects us to remove those who have abused our hospitality and do not have the right to be here. Immigration detention is essential to enable this. Derwentside IRC will accommodate those who have been to found to have no right to remain in the UK and foreign national offenders while we prepare to remove them.”