The detention of children in immigration cases will end by May, with the family wing of the controversial Yarl’s Wood centre closed immediately, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has revealed.
“We are ending the shameful practice that last year alone saw over 1,000 innocent children imprisoned,” Clegg said.
“Today’s announcement marks a big culture shift within our immigration system. One that puts our values – the protection of children – above paranoia over our borders. One that prioritises doing the right thing over looking and sounding tough.”
Clegg added that no child is currently in an immigration detention centre and none will spend Christmas in one.
Under the new measures, children could still be held under the new policy in independently run, “pre-departure accommodation” for up to 72 hours before their return.
Martin Narey, chief executive of Barnardo’s, said such accommodation was acceptable.
“Supervised accommodation might continue to be used for brief periods as a last resort for those families who reject every reasonable opportunity to leave the UK, but that is a small and necessary price to pay for the prize of closing Yarl’s Wood,” he said.
The Children’s Society, however, has expressed concern about the arrangement.
“We have serious concerns about the government’s plans to hold families in secure ‘pre-departure accommodation,’” said Bob Reitemeier, chief executive of The Children’s Society. “In reality, young children will not be able to come and go freely from any accommodation where their parents are being held under lock and key. We are concerned that this accommodation could replicate some of the harm caused to children by detention.
“We urgently await clearer proposals as to how children will be safeguarded in this process. The government needs to ensure that we do not end up with families being held in detention by another name.”
Damian Green, the Conservative immigration minister, described the reform as “humane and fair”.
“We are providing assistance packages and family conferences to ensure families understand their options, and will be trying to ensure that they can remain in the community prior to their departure home,” he said.
“We are also creating a new independent family returns panel to ensure that the welfare of children is considered and properly factored into return plans where enforcement action is necessary.”
What do you think? Join the debate on CareSpace
Keep up to date with the latest developments in social care. Sign up to our daily and weekly emails