Commissioner condemns child detention after completing his journey of discovery

The practice of detaining asylum-seeking children has long been criticised by campaigners, but last week the children’s commissioner for England spoke out on the issue after gaining a unique insight into the reality of the treatment of such young people.

Al Aynsley-Green produced a report citing his concerns after visiting Yarl’s Wood removal centre in October and undergoing the “journey” experienced by asylum-seeking children admitted to the centre.

He found that children were given little information about why they were detained and what would happen to them. They were also denied the chance to communicate their views about their circumstances.

Speaking to Community Care, Aynsley-Green says it is unacceptable to rely on parents to inform children about what is happening, with many of them distressed by events and in self-denial about what is likely to happen.

“We [the commissioners] see children as people,” he says. “That [leaving it to their parents to inform them] is not adequate. Children have the right to be listened to and to have their views taken into account.”

Lisa Nandy, a policy adviser at The Children’s Society, agrees that asylum-seeking children need to be informed, and says the lack of regard shown towards them goes further than just those being detained.

“It’s a reflection of what’s happening throughout the asylum process,” she says. “When children come here they are treated as appendages to their families rather than as people in their own right.”

Nandy says anyone who thinks parents will be able to tell their children about what is happening is “living in a dream” because the families are seldom kept up to date and experience high stress levels.

Aynsley-Green is also concerned about the high security applied to children at Yarl’s Wood. Young people pass through eight to 10 locked doors in their journey from the reception area to the family wing, they are searched each time they enter the wing and pass through a barred “cell” door to enter it.

Aynsley-Green emphasises that the children are not in the centre because they are in trouble with the law, and says it is “questionable” whether security arrangements need to be so tight. The barred “cell” door is unnecessary, he adds.

The commissioner says the five outcomes outlined in the children’s green paper are not being met for detained children. “If every child matters, then every child should matter, and that should apply to all children in this country regardless of their immigration status,” he says.

He suggests that the government should provide clarification with a “definitive position statement” on how the Children Act 2004 and immigration legislation fit together.

Aynsley-Green has also called for the repeal of the law under which the children of failed asylum seekers can be taken into care. He says it is difficult to see how section nine of the Asylum and Immigration Act 2004 fits with child care legislation, which states that the best interests of the child are always paramount.

Emma Ginn, head of the Campaign to Stop Arbitrary Detention at Yarl’s Wood, also opposes section nine and welcomes having the commissioner’s weight behind the campaign for its withdrawal.

Last month the UK’s four children’s commissioners met Lin Homer, the head of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, to discuss the treatment of asylum-seeking children. The Home Office has now agreed to work with the commissioners to address the issues.

With immigration minister Tony McNulty due to make a decision in February on whether to roll out section nine across the country, it will soon be apparent how hard the government has been listening.

 An Announced Visit to Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre from

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