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Stop detaining children; consider tougher reporting requirements

Detention should be the last resort

26th March 2010:
Stop detaining children; instead consider alternatives such as tough reporting requirements, Refugee and Migrant Justice (RMJ) has vehemently suggested.

RMJ’s statement comes in response to a report released today by Dame Anne Owers, Chief Inspector of Prisons on an unannounced inspection of Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire.

Chief Executive of Refugee and Migrant Justice Caroline Slocock has asserted Immigration and Border Minister “Phil Woolas stated there was no alternative – but there is an alternative.

“The UK Border Agency can stop the practice immediately. Families generally do not abscond, and as the Home Affairs Select Committee recommended last November, alternatives such as tough reporting requirements could be considered as an alternative.

“If detention has to be used, it should only be as a last resort. The fact so many children released without being removed from the country shows there is need to detain them in the first place”.

Slocock said they were “aware that facilities inside Yarl’s Wood have improved for children, but this is little more than a sticking plaster which cannot mask the long-term damage being caused by locking them up in the first place”.

She added: "As we have highlighted in our report this week Safe at Last, the UK Border Agency has shown a demonstrable disregard for its obligations to children’s welfare. The drawn-out, unnecessary detention of children is yet more evidence of this.

“A further concern is the sheer length of time people are being detained. We are horrified that the average length of stay was found to have increased by 50 per cent since the last inspection. It is simply not acceptable that one in 10 women at Yarl’s Wood had been detained there for six months. It is horrific to hear that a baby was held for as long as 100 days.”

In her report, chief inspector of prisons Dame Anne Owers has also talked about the use of force against children twice during last year to separate them from families to carry out deportations.

Quoting examples, the report says force was used to split up a family of six to remove father and two children. The youngest child was removed by force from his father’s grip.

A 10-year-old child was taken by force into the departure area after refusing to leave his mother." A pregnant mother too was forcibly placed and held in a wheelchair after she refused to move after being separated from her three-year-old son.

Owers has categorically asserted young children were being held unnecessarily at an immigration detention centre. Her assertion is based on the fact that 50 per cent of the 420 children detained at the centre were later released into the community over a six-month period. The action raised questions about the necessity of detaining them.

She has also referred to "troubling" concerns over the welfare of youngsters detained at the centre in Bedfordshire.

The chief inspector has added in some cases even the ministers were not given details of the damage the process of locking up the children was causing to them before decisions to prolong their detention were made.

The report comes within a month of another report with similar findings by the Children’s Commissioner. It said Yarl’s Wood was "distressing and harmful" for children, despite recent improvements in conditions. (See: https://www.foreignersinuk.co.uk/news-another_controversy_born_at_yarl_s_wood_100_days_detention_for_baby_1676.html)

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