Senior Support Worker Andrew Wisbach flew out to Berlin last month to attend the European Alternative to Detention Network Conference in Berlin. The network aims to build evidence and momentum on engagement-based alternatives to detention, to reduce the use of immigration detention in Europe.

We joined the Network back in January 2019, and currently run Action Access, a two-year pilot backed by the Home Office to provide an alternative to detention for female asylum seekers. Working with up to 21 women at any one time, the project provides housing and support and aims to improve voluntary engagement with the immigration system and access to legal support to resolve their immigration status.

We had a chat with Andrew to get the highlights from the event in Berlin.

What was the focus of the Conference?

Representatives from all the current members of the European Alternative to Detention Network gathered in Berlin to discuss case management, advocacy, and also to welcome Italy and Greece into the organisation.

What did you bring to the table from Action Foundation?

I offered a presentation and spoke about the impact we’re having, the impact that we have the potential to have, and the benefits of having the Home Office on board.
We looked at individual S.W.O.T analysis for each of the countries in the Network and what might unite our approach. We looked at the Theory of Change on both a Regional and respective National levels to compare notes.

Our model is different at Action Foundation, we’re a long way ahead comparatively. We created something with a considerable focus on person-centred support with less of a need for advocacy,  thanks to good NGO and Home Office relationships.

How was Action Foundation’s work received by the other countries in the Network?

It went down really well and they were wholly impressed. The Network have taken a lot of what we’ve modelled and are going to implement it as part of their regional European model.
Things like the ability to scale the program up from 21 clients, up to 50/100/200 clients. This is an area that hey’d not thought of themselves which genuinely surprised them.

Also, the person-centred approach that we adopt is really integral to the model we operate under, and had been less of a consideration in other countries as the need for advocacy steers their work far more.

How do the projects differ in the other European countries?

In the Netherlands they’ve got a programme called Bed, Bath and Bread. Rather than it being supported accommodation like we offer, it’s supportive. It’s the closest model to the one offered by Action Foundation.

The European projects are funded by third party stakeholders, they may have a little bit of regional council funding, but predominantly it’s philanthropic and charitable organisations.  No other pilot is yet as fortunate as us in having a government contact as regular or as robust as we’ve managed. The fact that we liaise with the Home Office weekly, and they visit us every 3-6 weeks is phenomenal in comparison. If we can show the success we have by working collaboratively, hopefully someone will pick that up abroad.

What’s next?

Denise and I are going to the next conference in December and my biggest question will be around case management. As I understand it, few of the other pilots have ready access to accommodation, so how and where people are accommodated on release will be of interest.

The model that we have is unique and probably the finest it could be for this type of offer. What more could you ask as an ex-detainee? Our Support Workers put the foundations of support in place for the women as soon as they arrive in Newcastle.

Going to the conference has made me really appreciative of what we have achieved here and how fortunate we are.

Click here to find out about what happened when the UK Representative for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees visited Action Foundation to get an insight into Action Access