Special report on detention of child asylum seekers

The two main aims of the campaign:

1. Community Care wants to ensure that people entering
the UK seeking asylum are treated as human beings and given support
that meets national and international standards, including those
under the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and
the European Convention on Human Rights

2. Community Care wants to challenge the current
atmosphere of hysteria, dangerous prejudice and outright racism
towards refugees and asylum seekers

More information on the campaign

Special report:

While the poor conditions in Young Offenders’ Institutions
often raise doubts over their suitability to hold young people,
there are a group of children held in detention whose only crime is
to flee persecution, torture or a war-torn country that are faced
with strikingly similar conditions – the children of asylum
seekers, writes Clare Jerrom.

Fifty six children under-18 were being held in four immigration
service removal centres – Dungavel, Harmondsworth, Oakington
and Tinsley House – on 2 April this year, according to
immigration minister Beverley Hughes in a House of Commons written
answer earlier this month.

“Minors are detained only in two limited circumstances:
first, as part of a family group whose detention is considered
appropriate; second, when unaccompanied, while alternative care
arrangements are made and normally just overnight,” she

Legal powers to detain are contained in the Immigration Act 1971
and the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. The statutes allow the
detention of certain classes of people while decisions are made
about their immigration status. This includes those arriving at a
UK port without “leave to enter”, those who are
awaiting deportation, illegal entrants and those considered likely
to abscond.

However, campaigners against the detention of children and
recent reports have raised concerns over the adequacy of
children’s services within removal centres, and whether the
detention of children is suitable or necessary. Conservative MP Ann
Widdecombe’s recent suggestion that all asylum seekers should
be locked up on arrival into the country has added fuel to the
already raging fire.

Chief prisons inspector Anne Owers’ first reports into Oakington
reception centre and Tinsley House removal centre, both of which
detained children for short periods, were published in April.

Owers said the centres were not suitable for stays of anything
more than a few days, and needed to have in place good child
protection safeguards and links.

The reports recommended that the detention of children
“should be avoided wherever possible, and only take place for
the shortest possible time, in no case more than seven

Shortly afterwards, the charity Bail for Immigration Detainees,
published a scathing report into the policy and highlighted that
families may experience lengthy detention. Interviewees had been
detained for between 81 and 161 days. Some families were released
on bail after lengthy detention raising doubts over the necessity
to detain initially.

“Children suffer emotional, physical and psychological
harm as a direct result of being detained by the Immigration
Service,” the report said.

“Detention is never in the best interest of a child, and
children should not be detained under Immigration Act
powers,” it recommends, adding that until legislation is
changed to reflect the interests of children by exempting them from
detention, safeguards must be introduced to limit the damage to
children and their families.

Meanwhile in a House of Commons debate earlier this month
Michael Connarty, MP for Falkirk East,  said that while the abuse
of the asylum process is a problem, “locking up asylum
seekers’ children does not contribute to solving that

He highlighted that families are likely to seek social and
educational services for their children and are therefore easy to
trace. Having visited Dungavel centre, he said “it was a
terrible place to detain children”, yet even if it was
moderated “the principle of locking up children is

In response, Hughes defended the government’s policy and
said: “People are not detained lightly, particularly
families”. Hughes criticised BID’s report saying that
“it was based on a tiny sample of only nine families, two of
whom were never detained”.

In response to Owers’ reports Hughes said that a large
proportion of the findings reflect only the comments of the
detainees themselves. “As people are generally unhappy about
being detained and removed from the country, it is unsurprising
that they express dissatisfaction with their situation.”

But last week, as the home affairs committee took evidence in
their inquiry into asylum applications, Ann Widdecombe asked
whether a lot of the problems associated with the asylum system
would be addressed if all new applicants were detained while their
claims were processed.

Director of Kent social services Peter Gilroy said the problems
would be addressed if the system was fast and where “people
are not left languishing in centres”. Gilroy said that while
he was “anti-institutions”, it would “take away a
lot of operational problems”.

But Children’s Society policy and practice manager Alison
Harvey said this raises grave concerns: “To lock children up
from beginning to end clearly violates children’s rights, and
could be defeated under human rights laws.”

To think that by making conditions here bad for asylum seekers
acts as a deterrent is a myth as “people are running away
from far worse things,” she added.

BID’s policy officer Sarah Cutler said there is a
likelihood that the home affairs committee, of which Widdecombe is
a member, will consider detention in any work they produce.
“I hope the others on the committee will take issue with this
as it is not practical, humane or financially viable.”

‘A Few Families Too Many’

available here

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