Immigration detainees claiming to be children are held in solitary confinement and wait too long for social services assessments at Dover Immigration Removal Centre, according to inspectors.
The chief inspector of prisons said potential minors whose ages were disputed were often “inappropriately” locked in the segregation unit away from adults while waiting for assessments.
Lack of care plans
The probe between 19-21 January, published today, cited a case where a boy claiming to be 15 refused food for two days during a nine-day stay in the separation unit and became “withdrawn.” He had no care plan and was “locked behind his door in a separation cell for most of the time for no clear reason,” inspectors found.
The inspection report said that although the centre was not responsible for the delays in assessments, these were “wholly unacceptable conditions” in which to detain children.
Age disputes ‘not a priority’
The local social services department in Kent Council did not prioritise Dover age dispute cases because they were considered to be held safely, according to managers at the centre.
Inspectors also raised concerns over poor anti-bullying procedures and increasing use of force at the centre and a lack of consisent welfare support for detainees.
Chief inspector Anne Owers said she was disappointed that the centre, which holds up to 361 detainees had become “like a prison.”
She added: “We had some concerns about the robustness of the procedures to support safety and there had been a significant deterioration in welfare support for detainees about to leave the centre. These are matters that managers need to address if the centre is to retain its positive ethos and ensure a safe environment.”
Kent Council insisted that assessments for detainees claiming to be children were a “priority” and rejected claims that delays were occuring.
Sarah Holher, cabinet member for children, families and education, said: “We were quite taken aback by the report. From April 2008 to date, we have had six requests for age assessments. Five of these assessments, which were completed on average within a week, found the individuals to be over 18 years old. In the sixth case, the person was reunited with their father.
“When the governor at the centre believes there to be an individual who is significantly under 18, we are contacted immediately and respond immediately – it is a very high priority for us and we would not wish for any child to be held in the Dover Immigration Removal Centre.”
The UK Border Agency pledged to draw up an action plan to keep improving the centre. “Dover deals with challenging detainees and casework. Staff at our removal centres work to provide a secure and humane environment for detainees before they are removed from the UK,” a UKBA spokeswoman said.