Behind the headlines

Anne Owers, the chief inspector of prisons, has again spoken out
against the detention of asylum seekers’ children. In an inspection
report into the Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre in Scotland –
the only removal centre that routinely holds families for long
periods – she said that detaining children should be “an
exceptional measure” and last “no more than a matter of days”.
Earlier this year, she said that children should not be detained
for longer than seven days and that centres holding children needed
“robust child protection safeguards and effective liaison with
local area child protection committees”. In the Dungavel report,
she said that detention, no matter how humane, was likely to affect
the children’s welfare. Owers would like to see an independent
assessment of the welfare, developmental and educational needs of
each detained child, guided by international and UK domestic law.
Her comments follow the deportation of the Kurdish Ay family, which
included four children, to Germany after 13 months in detention at

Martin Green, chief executive, Counsel and Care for the

“It is clear from the report that there are problems with the way
the asylum system deals with children. There needs to be a review
that should focus on how to speed up asylum applications so that
people are given their status quickly and the need for long periods
in re-settlement centres is reduced. But it is important to
recognise that this is a very complex and very politicised area.
There is a need for a sensible debate on asylum and the term itself
should be reclaimed for those who are fleeing oppression, rather
than used as a general term for anyone seeking to migrate to the

Felicity Collier, chief executive, Baaf Adoption and

“If a child-centred approach is taken to this problem by the Home
Office then there is no dilemma. Whatever the rights or wrongs of
the adults’ case for asylum, we cannot allow this to prejudice the
development of their children. The evidence is clear, children in
detention are at risk of significant harm. Surely, we can now
expect the recommendations of the prison inspectorate to be
implemented without delay.”

Bob Hudson, principal research fellow, Nuffield Institute
for Health, University of Leeds

“This situation is a reflection of the stigma attached to asylum
seekers and their children. The chief inspector of prisons is
having to draw attention to matters of human worth and dignity that
have long been settled for indigenous children. Unfortunately, the
government’s policy on asylum seekers seems to be based on fear of
the tabloid press and a desire to appease a prejudiced electorate.
We deserve better from a social democratic party.”

Karen Squillino, primary prevention co-ordinator,

“Children should not be detained at all in removal centres but
should be treated as children in need and given appropriate
accommodation, care and education. I understand the difficulties
associated with implementing this, given that it would mean
possible separation from parents which would be potentially
damaging in itself. A possible solution would be for a rigorous
overhaul of the current provision using international human rights
legislation as guidance for change. This would ensure that needs
were better met and that children would not have to be separated
from their parents.”

Bob Holman, community worker at a project in Easterhouse,

“I’ve often taken families to Dungavel Prison. Isolated and
difficult to reach, it is surrounded by intimidating high fences.
Yet inside are children who have committed no crimes, the children
of asylum seekers. As an evacuee during the second world war, I met
prisoners of war who worked on farms and mixed with the villagers.
The present government treats refugees more harshly than them.
Scotland has a declining population. Instead of locking up asylum
seekers, government should welcome them as an asset.”

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