Child detention ends with Yarl’s Wood family unit closure

Move is a part of government plans to end detention of children
22nd July 2010: Just about a fortnight after the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association asked the ministers to fulfill the commitment made in the Queen’s Speech on putting to an end the detention of children, Nick Clegg has announced the closure of Yarl’s Wood immigration center’s family wing.

The move, being seen as a part of government plans to end the detention of children awaiting deportation, was hailed by the Liberal Democrats.
Campaigners and children’s charities too welcomed the deputy prime minister’s announcement, as he criticised the previous government for committing "moral outrage" by detaining 1,000 children.

Standing in for David Cameron at prime minister’s questions for the first time, Clegg gave rise to confusion by telling the MPs that the entire Yarl’s Wood detention centre would close, even though only the family wing is being shut down.

The assertion triggered off a triumphant statement from the Lib Dems, who declared the party was having a "huge influence in government".

Co-chair of the Lib Dem parliamentary committee for home affairs Tom Brake’s statement came a minute after the Home Office was forced to clarify Clegg’s comments.

A spokesman said the family unit of the 405-bed facility in Bedfordshire would close down, while the rest of the detention centre would remain open.

"Yarl’s Wood family unit will be closed, but the centre will continue to function as an immigration removal facility for adults," the spokesman said.

He added the new government has been clear in its commitment to end the detention of children and this includes those held in the family wing at Yarl’s Wood. “We are currently working to find an alternative that protects the welfare of children, without undermining our immigration laws."

Describing it a "step in the right direction", a spokesman for the Outcry campaign —comprising the Children’s Society and Bail for Immigration Detainees — welcomed the closure of the Yarl’s Wood family unit.
The Outcry campaign has repeatedly condemned the unnecessary practice of immigration detention of children which seriously harms children’s physical and mental health. “We believe that locking up children, who have committed no crime, for months at a time, is unacceptable in Britain in the 21st century. This commitment is a huge step in the right direction," the spokesman asserted.

The director of policy for Liberty, Isabella Sankey, said Yarl’s Wood family unit was a notorious contradiction in terms, where children have been incarcerated and mothers driven to despair. The director added they look forward to government plans to close the unit and to replacing detention with a more humane and family-friendly policy. Protecting those fleeing persecution is a moral and legal obligation. It is no crime to be a refugee and certainly no crime to be a child."

Just last year, a Home Office report showed hundreds of children were being detained in immigration centres. In all, as many as 470 children entered detention facilities in the first half of 2009.

A substantial number of detainee children came from troubled areas of Zimbabwe, Sudan, Sri Lanka and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Approximately a third of detained children had been kept for more than 28 days, indicating authorization by a Government minister.

The statistics also indicated a large number of them had been locked up needlessly. A testimony to this effect was provided by the fact that out of 225 children released in the second quarter of 2009, only 100 were removed from the UK.

Sir Al Aynsley-Green, the Children’s Commissioner for England, had questioned if they were allowed to stay at the end of their release, why did they have to go through the detention process in the first place?

Scottish National Party MP-cum- the party’s home affairs spokesman Pete Wishart too had earlier asserted detaining children in centres meant for adults was simply wrong. Regardless of the position of the parents, children should not be detained behind barbed wire; and it was completely unacceptable.

Elaborating, Wishart said children’s welfare was not well served by the UK’s actions; and regardless of their parents’ immigration status, children should pay the price.

He also blamed the government for detaining the equivalent of a high school every year across the UK. Wishart also expressed his displeasure over the fact 103 children had been held in Scotland, even though the Scottish Government is firmly against child detention. Describing it as deeply disturbing, he called on the UK Government to end this practice.

The MP said the figures showed nearly 200 children a year were being held for more than four weeks; and he would be pursuing the issue with the UK Government.

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