Let Down on Child Detention
BID and The Children’s Society’s recent report ‘Last resort or first resort?’ sounds a warning bell about the Government’s controversial policy of holding children and families in immigration detention.
[This article originally appeared on The Migrants' Rights Network website]
Sarah Campbell is a Research and Policy Manager at Bail for Immigration Detainees (www.biduk.org). She previously worked at the Fawcett Society, a women’s rights organisation, where she led the organisation’s lobbying work on gender-based violence and poverty. She was also previously a Research Associate at Kings College London, where she carried out research on workplace discrimination.
The report examines the cases of 82 families with 143 children who were detained in order to be forcibly removed from the UK during 2009. Its findings make for worrying reading, and raise very serious questions about the Home Office’s decisions to detain these families.
[Read the report Last Resort or First Resort?]
In the vast majority of these cases, families were detained despite there being little risk of them absconding. There were often barriers to the families returning to their countries of origin during the time they were detained, which meant it was not possible, lawful or in the children’s best interests for the Home Office to forcibly remove them.
In three cases, families were actually put on flights and forcibly removed from the UK, only to be flown back when it became clear that their were legal or documentation barriers to their removal. 61% of the families in our study were eventually released back into the community, their detention having served no purpose.
We also found that safeguards which were intended to protect children’s welfare were ineffective. In one case, a mother refused over 60 meals while in detention, and reported that her son witnessed the aftermath of a suicide attempt by another detainee. Reviews of the family’s detention stated that there were ‘no concerns’ for the family’s well-being and ‘no medical issues’. Six months after the family’s release, this child was still receiving counselling as a result of mental health problems he developed in detention.
At BID, we have for years been representing families who have been subjected to this type of appalling treatment by the Home Office, and campaigning for an end to the immigration detention of children. We were therefore delighted when, in May 2010, the coalition government announced that they would stop detaining children.
However, we were extremely disappointed by subsequent announcements that children will in fact continue to be detained for up to seven days at a time. While the new limit of seven days is clearly an improvement on the previous situation where children were detained without any time limit, experience shows that arrest and detention, even for short periods, can cause extreme distress to children. For example, the Guardian reported on a ten year old girl who was detained in 2009 attempted suicide three days after her arrest.
Furthermore, there has been no serious effort made by the Home Office to address the systemic problems which can lead to families ending up in detention – such as poor decision-making on asylum and immigration claims. Meanwhile, the Government’s plans to cut legal aid mean that it is likely to become increasingly difficult for families to access the legal representation they so badly need to properly present their immigration or asylum claims.
The Government now plans to open a new short-term holding facility for families in Sussex. Critics estimate that up to 6,500 children could be detained in this facility every year. The Government claims that only small numbers of families will be detained there, ‘as a last resort’ – an all too familiar refrain for those of us who have long campaigned on this issue. To read more about BID’s work on the detention of children, visit our website.