Barnardo’s is to run welfare services for children and families held in the government’s proposed detention centre near Gatwick Airport.
The centre, which is expected to open next month, will convert a special needs school into a facility for holding families whose asylum claim has been denied.
The UK Border Agency will have the power to hold families for 72 hours initially and, in rare circumstances, up to one week. Plans for the centre follow the closure of the controversial Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire.
A Home Office spokesperson said the centre would be “very different” from Yarl’s Wood which was heavily criticised by child welfare experts, including the former children’s commissioner for England, Sir Al Aynsley-Green.
A specially selected families returns panel, including social care experts, will determine when the UKBA can take families into the centre.
According to local council planning documents, the “pre-departure accommodation” will have nine private apartments for families and spacious grounds, behind fences 2.3 metres high.
Immigration minister Damian Green said: “I am very pleased that Barnardo’s have agreed to provide welfare, safeguarding and support services for families at our new pre-departure accommodation.
“It is crucial that the welfare of children remains an absolute priority during the returns process and the use of this new accommodation will be a last resort. It will however have an entirely different look and feel to an immigration removal centre with a high degree of privacy for each family.
“I believe our new approach is both fair and humane. We are providing assistance packages and family conferences to ensure families understand their options, and will be trying to ensure that families can remain in the community prior to their departure home.”
Barnardo’s chief executive Anne Marie Carrie is expected to give a speech later today, explaining the charity’s decision to be involved with the proposed centre.
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