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UNHCR report: alternatives are cheaper than detention


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UNHCR has published their final ‘Evaluation of the Refugee and Migrant Advice Service’s Alternative to detention pilot’ which concludes that using detention for the 84 people in the scheme would have cost at least two thirds more than helping them outside of detention. The pilot ran from June 2020 to 2022. People were provided with three meetings with a solicitor, a one-to-one case worker, financial support, mental health support, travel support and interpreter costs. These costs also included office, overhead costs and staffing costs for the Kings Arm Project.

Both pilots have demonstrated how more widespread use of ATD in partnership with NGOs to deliver timely legal counselling and case resolution has the potential to address systemic issues in immigration such as the reliance on immigration detention and the damage that could be done to mental and physical health by detention. Timely case resolution may also reduce the impact of uncertainty and instability regarding their immigration status on migrants and reduce the human cost of immigration.

Six people were granted leave to remain and 52 were advised that they had may have grounds for leave to remain, including 14 asylum claims. Many people on the pilot were advised that they may be able to regularise their stay but were then unable to access legal aid or afford to pay privately. This was a stand out point to me, namely how inaccessible rights are without a legal aid lawyer to assist. A dramatic reduction in the use of detention and putting the cost savings into legal aid instead would certainly be a start towards a better immigration system, however neither of those things seem likely to happen at present.

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Sonia Lenegan

Sonia Lenegan is an experienced immigration, asylum and public law solicitor. She has been practising for over ten years and was previously legal director at the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association and legal and policy director at Rainbow Migration. Sonia is the Editor of Free Movement.