Refugee Action recently received the sad news that we won’t have the opportunity to bid again for the Assisted Voluntary Returns Programme funding we have been using to provide our Choices service when our grant agreement ends in December.
The Home Office plan to deliver a new returns programmes in house by incorporating them into their existing voluntary departures scheme. Under the new scheme, there will be no delivery of impartial, non-directive advice to those considering returning. This means irregular migrants will no longer be eligible unless they meet a definition of vulnerability.
The changes are part of a wider strategy by the incoming government to strengthen the ‘hostile environment’ and create stronger incentives for voluntary return. They are likely to leave more people facing destitution or danger either in the UK or at home.
Refugee Action has written to the Immigration Minister James Brokenshire with these concerns, and is keen to work with all interested parties to see how together we can provide support to asylum seekers and irregular migrants that face destitution as a result of this new policy.
Refugee Action has delivered the Choices Service since April 2011. We are proud to have delivered a values driven service that clients trust. Key to this has been giving people the opportunity to explore all their options – including whether they have a case for remaining in the UK – and practically plan for their futures. Our eighteen partner organisations in countries of return support us in this work.
Client feedback has repeatedly shown how much people need and benefit from this support. Namutsa returned to Zimbabwe with Choices earlier this year. “My caseworker was excellent,” he said. “She gave me all the options and gave me time to make up my mind. She made me feel safe to go through the whole process. For me it was a brilliant service”. We are saddened that this successful approach will not be continuing.