A Freedom of Information (FOI) request has divulged that in a four-month period between May and August this year, almost 700 children were held at the UK's south-east ports. This was done despite a government pledge in May last to end the immigration detention of children.
A Children's Society spokesman said the association was horrified at the unwarranted number of children being held at the UK's south-east ports.
As many as 2,000 children a year, including many by themselves without an adult, could be arrested each year at the UK's borders, despite government assuring to end child detention.
According to the Children's Society, which made the FOI request a third of the 697 children detained were unaccompanied, and information was not kept about why and how long they had been held back.
The Chief Executive Bob Reitemeier said that they were appalled at the unnecessary number of children being held in the south-east and very upset that government has not kept these numbers to a minimum.
Reitemeier asserted that it was of great concern that this appeared to be happening without sufficient monitoring centrally by the Home Office. This included why the children were being held, their age and critically the length of time that they were held. This raised serious questions about the commitment to end the immigration detention of children.
Nick Clegg has called the locking up of children who were innocent of any wrongdoing whatsoever, a moral outrage, and in July the government announced it would close the family unit at the Yarl's Wood detention centre.
Kamena Dorling, policy and programmes manager at Coram Children's Legal Centre dismissed government claims of ending child detention as rebranding and added that there were apprehensions about children being getting insufficient access to legal advice and healthcare in short-term holding facilities.
She added that this information was very concerning because of the high number of children and because they did not know how long they were being held.
"There is an awful lot of research and evidence about the harm and trauma caused to children who are detained, not because they have done anything wrong, but purely for immigration reasons," asserted Dorling.
Publishing details of the new policy in December 2010, the government preserved the right to detain families with children at the border in exceptional cases, but expected this to be "a few dozen families each year, usually for less than 24 hours and only where logistics or safety makes pre-departure accommodation unworkable.
Enver Solomon, policy director at the Children's Society said the children were being detained in higher numbers than the government had been leading them to expect. This data raised grave concerns and needs to be urgently investigated by the Home Office.
He added that the UK Border Agency was running the risk of holding children in detention who were victims of child trafficking.
According to report in the Guardian, Tom Brake MP, co-chair of the parliamentary committee for home affairs, justice and equality, said children may sometimes had to be kept in custody at ports to evaluate their status and risk but that he would be writing to the home secretary for more details.
He added that the government had made real growth on detention pre-deportation, but the Children Society figures suggested they now need to focus with the same determination on detention at points of entry. "The detention of children whether pre-deportation or at entry ports must be kept to an absolute minimum.”
Sarah Campbell, research and policy manager at Bail for Immigration Detainees said that children can experience extreme distress in detention, even when only detained for short periods. The prison's inspector has already outlined sometimes appalling conditions in short-term holding facilities which were not suitable for children.
A UKBA spokeswoman said that in its review into ending the detention of children for immigration purposes, "detention" was defined as the holding of children in immigration removal centres, such as Yarl's Wood.
She said,"We have always been clear that we would retain the ability to hold families who have arrived at the border without the right to enter the UK.Where it is considered in the family's best interests not to stay at the airport until the next flight, the UK Border Agency will make arrangements for them to stay at Tinsley House."