UK under fire for detaining 1,300 children at 3 immigration removal centres

Scottish National Party MP calls for an end to the practice

3rd November 2009: The government has come under criticism for detaining over 1,300 children at three immigration removal centres in the UK during a 15-month period.

Taking up the issue, Scottish National Party MP-cum- the party’s home affairs spokesman Pete Wishart has 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.

The figures form a part of a letter from Immigration Minister Phil Woolas to Wishart. The letter reveals 884 children were held at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire between July 2008 and July 2009; 328 children at the Tinsley House centre near Gatwick Airport between September 1 2008 and August 31 2009; and 103 children at the Dungavel centre in Scotland between October 2008 and September 18 2009.

The figures also showed 889 children from 488 families were detained for more than 28 days between April 2004 and September 2009 – something which has to be authorised by ministers.
Available information indicates the letter asserted the figures were not subjected to the "detailed checks", as in case of official statistics. Woolas added in the letter the welfare of children was an issue he took seriously; and added the UK Border Agency was introducing the duty of care to children through the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill.

In addition, a programme to improve statistics on people held in detention was under way. This would result in more statistics published, subject to data quality, in 2009. The programme of work would give a particular focus to detained children.

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