Imagine a world in which people trying to make the UK their home were met with a supportive environment, not a hostile one. A world where people without immigration status were supported to understand their options and make informed decisions about their next steps, rather than being detained and threatened with removal. 

This approach is not only possible, but tried and tested within the UK. Following a recommendation from Stephen Shaw’s second report on immigration detention in 2018, the Home Office commissioned a series of pilot projects to test community-based “alternatives to detention”, both of which have now concluded and been subject to an independent evaluation.

The results of both initiatives are clear. Supporting people who might otherwise be detained to navigate the asylum and immigration system in the community instead: 

  • is better for their mental health and wellbeing 
  • costs less than detaining them, and
  • does not affect compliance with Home Office directives. 


We must remember that detaining people going through the asylum and immigration system is a choice our government makes. It’s a choice that destroys lives, tears communities apart and has devastating consequences for those who are locked up with no idea when they might be set free. It puts LGBTQI+ people in a dangerous situation where they face bullying, harassment and abuse. 

Nobody benefits from detention, except the private contractors who are paid millions of pounds a year to run the UK’s detention centres. But we could all benefit from an approach that sees people supported in our communities and empowered to make decisions that are right for them. For LGBTQI+ people who have fled persecution and could otherwise be detained here, it would mean having the chance to live openly and with dignity while they claim asylum in the UK. 

With an alternative on the table that is compassionate, humane and cost-effective we cannot let this government continue its plans to re-open Campsfield and Haslar detention centres and tender for three new centres as well. 

Help spread the word about compassionate alternatives to detention by emailing your MP. 

Read on to learn more about the two pilot projects. 


King’s Arms Project – Refugee and Migrant Advice Service 

Last month UNHCR published the evaluation of a pilot project delivered by the King’s Arms Project (KAP) in Bedford. Between 2020 and 2022, 84 people without immigration status who were liable to detention were supported in the community through KAP’s Refugee and Migrant Advice Service (RMAS).  

People taking part in the pilot received free, high-quality legal counselling and one-to-one support from a caseworker. That one-to-one support was flexible and tailored to individual needs – for example help with accessing healthcare, setting up bank accounts, social inclusion or accessing training/volunteer opportunities. 

By the end of the pilot, 80% of people had been offered viable options to regularise their immigration status. They experienced better self-esteem and wellbeing, a better understanding of their legal options, and increased confidence and ability to access entitlements. As a result they were able to make informed decisions about their situation. 

NatCen, who evaluated the project, estimated the pilot to be two-thirds cheaper than it would have been to detain the individuals supported. 

It’s like comparing day and night. King’s Arms Project is like the day where the sun is out and my life before was like in the night, without stars. 

Action Foundation – Action Access 

RMAS was preceded by Action Access, delivered by the Action Foundation in Newcastle from 2019 – 2021. That project supported women seeking asylum in the UK, most of whom were detained in Yarl’s Wood prior to joining the pilot. As with RMAS, the women were given legal counselling and one-to-one support, however the Action Access pilot also provided them with shared accommodation and subsistence payments. 

Unsurprisingly, the women moved from detention to this project experienced immediate improvements to their health and wellbeing. They experienced greater stability while on the pilot, and were better able to understand their options and make informed decisions about their asylum cases. 

Despite being hampered by the coronavirus pandemic and having to run below capacity, Action Access was cheaper per participant per night than detention. In the evaluation NatCen estimated that potential savings from extending the pilot (e.g. running it at capacity and entering into longer leases to save on rents) could see the cost come down to less than half the cost of detaining someone. 

“In detention, you don’t have this kind of positive atmosphere. You just want to cry. You just want to stop eating. You just want to kill yourself. This is because you are so in trouble there, right. Then, when you come out, it’s like everything is going to be nice again… the atmosphere is very different, and I think you recover yourself.”