Alternative to Detention

People in front of detention home

We know immigration detention is cruel and inhumane. The suffering and harm detention causes is also completely unnecessary. We talk about compassionate alternatives to detention existing, but it’s often not clear what this actually means! 

Over the last 2 years, a charity based in Bedford, King’s Arms Project (KAP), has been providing holistic support to people without immigration status through an Alternatives to Detention (ATD) pilot. Known as the Refugee & Migrant Advice Service, this project was developed in collaboration with KAP, the Home Office and UNHCR.

This blog from the King’s Arms Project digs into their pilot!

“I just want to express my sense of gratitude for the support that you gave to me during my darkest days when l had no papers. It was very, very tough for me to manoeuvre in life. I was in the sea of no way but you came to my rescue, you patiently supported me.”

Living in Limbo

Life in the UK without a visa and without an easily accessible route to resolution, is a state of limbo which can be overwhelming and debilitating. Regardless of the reasons why an individual can find themselves in this limbo, which are many and highly complicated, King’s Arms Project believes that every person is significant and that there is hope for everyone, always.

“I was in the depths of hopelessness and in despair, I did not know who to turn to for help.”

People with ‘irregular’ immigration status are at risk of detention and deportation. They aren’t allowed to work or claim benefits. Access to healthcare services, educational facilities and volunteering opportunities are also limited. People in this situation are some of the most marginalised in our communities - vulnerable to exploitation, reliant on friends or family and often without knowledge of their rights.

Navigating Immigration Options

Many of the people King’s Arms Project supported through the Advice Service have described feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, and unsure of what to do and where to turn for help. One of the main focuses of the pilot was to help people understand their immigration options and decide their next steps to overcome this state of limbo.

Working alongside a team of incredible solicitors, King’s Arms Project has helped 65 people access legal advice. 80% of these people were presented with viable options to regularise their immigration status in the UK.

Most people were given clear options to regularise their immigration status and KAP caseworkers were able to work with these individuals to put together applications – several of which have already been granted! 

These figures show that this community-based approach is both a practical and compassionate alternative to immigration detention, which effectively helps people solve this issue of limbo.

Holistic Support for those at Risk of Detention 

As well as having access to immigration advice, participants were provided with holistic support to help with different aspects of their lives.

This approach to casework was essential as many of the clients had struggled to access services that are usually taken for granted - seeing a GP, receiving mobility aids, using email are just a few.

Sani did not realise that she had the right to be registered with a GP as she’d been turned away from so many surgeries by the reception staff. After not seeing a doctor for 20 years, Sani’s KAP caseworker helped her register with her local GP and book a much-needed appointment.

Due to physical health challenges, Reem was house-bound and unable to move around easily. Reem’s KAP caseworker helped her apply for a grant, which was successful. Reem used the grant to buy mobility equipment which has reduced her pain but also vastly improved her ability to move around independently.

Kamali has lived in the UK for 16 years and was receiving support through the Advice Service. Kamali’s KAP caseworker taught her how to write and send emails, something she’d never been able to do before. This new skill allowed her to access a whole new way of communicating.

“I want to give thanks to KAP for the support. It filled me with confidence. I’ve decided to use my email because it's all from KAP which encouraged me and taught me to communicate with email with great support. I can even access my GP, dentist, opticians; it's all support from KAP.”


(*all the names have been changed to protect the identity of clients*)

This blog post was written by the Kings Arms Project. Find out more about how they support refugees and migrants and how you can support their work here.

This pilot meant the 65 people supported were treated with dignity, respect and their individual needs considered. Without access to the pilot these 65 people could have been locked up in immigration detention centres causing harm and distress for the individuals but also for their friends and family.

It’s clear from this pilot that community based and compassionate alternatives to immigration detention are more humane. A previous ATD pilot also highlighted this too.

Now we just need our government to commit to using these.