Children’s commissioner: ‘Stop detaining child asylum seekers’

The Children’s Commissioner for England has today called for an end to the arrest and detention of child asylum seekers.

Sir Al Aynsley-Green’s report follows a visit to the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre and his concerns over detention procedures and the harmful impact arrest and detention is having on children’s health and well-being.

Up to 2,000 children and young people who are subject to immigration control are detained each year solely for administrative purposes. There is evidence to show the average length of time they are detained has increased, according to the report.

Yarl’s Wood is the main immigration removal centre in the UK with family accommodation.

Detention fears  

The commissioner (pictured) found the process of arrest and conditions during transportation to Yarl’s Wood were the main sources of complaint, with many families saying they were frightened when arrested during the night by large numbers of UK Border Agency (UKBA) staff and given little time to pack.

In the centre, the children lacked emotional support or counselling to help them cope with the stress of detention. They told the Commissioner being in Yarl’s Wood was “like being in a prison”.

Aynsley-Green’s proposals

The report makes 42 recommendations to government and UKBA to secure improvements in the treatment of the children and their families, including:

• The development of community-based alternatives to detention
• Detention should only be used as a last resort and for the shortest time possible
• The government should monitor the detention of children in line with international human rights standards
• The UKBA needs to develop a fair and transparent decision-making process to make the process of detention and the removal of failed asylum-seekers clearer to detainees, agencies and the public

Concerns over treatment

Commenting on  the findings, Aynsley-Green, said: “We are particularly concerned at what appear at times to be significant discrepancies between policy guidance and what happens in practice to children, young people and families during arrest, transportation and detention.

“Ultimately, we want any child who comes into contact with the asylum and immigration services to be treated fairly and humanely. We will continue to work with all agencies to create an asylum system that is compliant with international human rights, that acknowledges children’s needs and places their best interests at the heart of policy.”

Refugee Council support

The Refugee Council supported the Commissioner’s proposals. Its chief executive Donna Covey said: “The commissioner has exposed one of the UK’s most shameful practices – imprisoning children for administrative reasons. The evidence contained in this report is shocking, and demonstrates once again how harmful detaining children is. We join the Commissioner’s call to end the practice of detaining children as soon as possible.  And in the meantime, we urge the government to implement the recommendations contained in this report without delay.”

But chief executive Martin Narey (pictured) of children’s charity Barnardo’s said seeking to improve conditions in detention for children was “entirely missing the point”.

He said: “Children, who have committed no crime but are simply here with their parents should not and do not need to be locked up. It may be administratively convenient for the Home Office to do so, but it is as unnecessary as it is shameful. Urgent investment into alternatives to detention is imperative. We have a moral obligation to keep these children healthy.”

More information

Full report

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