The UK Border Agency has justified holding families for short periods at UK ports and airports by claiming the action is in the interests of vulnerable children and protect the border.
The Home Office said: `On occasions, families will sometimes need to wait for short periods in safe, secure accommodation on site while enquiries are made to establish whether they should be admitted to the UK or, if they have no right to enter the country, until the time of the next available return flight.
`If the timing of the next flight means that overnight accommodation is needed, families stay together at the recently refurbished family suites at Tinsley House, near Gatwick airport.
`In the case of unaccompanied children, it can take time to work with social services to arrange alternative accommodation. The UK Border Agency considers it has a duty of care not to release vulnerable young people before suitable assistance is arranged’.
The Home Office added: `Between May and August this year, fewer than 700 children were held at the border in the south east. We are clear that children and families should be held in this way for the shortest possible time’.
UK Border Force Head Brodie Clark said: ‘We have always been clear that we may need to hold some families at the border while enquiries are made to decide whether they can be admitted to the country or until the next available return flight if they are refused entry.
‘In the case of unaccompanied children, we may need to hold them until alternative accommodation is arranged, usually through social services. The number of passengers held is very small compared to the millions that we process and tens of thousands we refuse entry to at the border each year and it is always for the shortest possible period.
‘Not doing so would weaken border security by allowing people into the country who have no right to be here, and, equally, to release unaccompanied children before social workers have arrived to support them would put them at great risk.’