`Children have limited access to fresh air, activities dwindling’

 `Conditions at a removal centre wholly unacceptable’

18th December 2009: The government has come under more criticism on its policy of detaining children in the removal homes.

A day after the Church of Scotland stepped in to object in “the strongest possible terms” to Border and Immigration minister Phil Woolas’ comments on the necessity of locking children up, a report has suggested the conditions for women and children at an immigration removal centre are "wholly unacceptable".

Available information suggests the prisons inspectorate found women at Tinsley House, near Gatwick Airport, felt intimidated. They rarely left their rooms. To make the matters worse, the parents were constantly worried about their children’s safety.

The kids had limited access to fresh air. The number of activities available to them too had fallen since the last inspection.

In what is being seen as a matter of great concern, the inspectors found prison-like culture prevailing at the centre holding 120 people.

Describing the report as "deeply depressing", Chief Inspector of Prisons Dame Anne Owers said called for urgent action from the company and the UK Border Agency.

She said provision across a number of areas at Tinsley House had deteriorated since their last visit. In particular, the arrangements for children and single women were now wholly unacceptable and required urgent action by G4S and UKBA.

Owers added it was also disappointing that the opening of the neighbouring Brook House had not led to a more thoughtful and rational approach to the use of Tinsley House.

Quoting an incident as an example, the prisons inspectorate said while a family was being removed from the country the children were subject to "unnecessary force" in one incident at the centre run by security company G4S.

Reacting to the assertions, director of criminality at UKBA David Wood, on the other hand, rejected the accusation that women and children faced wholly unacceptable conditions.

He said the conditions at Tinsley House at the time of the inspection were not ideal. But they do not agree they were wholly unacceptable for women and children.

Wood said they were nonetheless reviewing the services, adding treating women and children with care and compassion was a priority for the UK Border Agency.

Only recently, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg had sought the scrapping of the controversial asylum policy on detaining children in removal homes.

Launching an attack on the policy, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s failure to get it scrapped, Clegg had earlier it would see hundreds of innocent children spend Christmas behind bars. How could the Government justify “state sponsored cruelty”? Clegg had questioned.

In an open letter to the Prime Minister, Clegg had asked him to initiate immediate steps for terminating the policy of locking up the children of families facing possible deportation.

Soon after, Border and Immigration minister Phil Woolas had asserted locking children up in removal homes was for their own safety. Woolas had asserted the horrible reality of the modern world was failed asylum-seekers and their families were required to be kept under lock and key to discourage human trafficking.

He had added any attempts against doing so would only encourage traffickers; and would send a signal that the UK was a soft touch on immigration. The closure of the centre would be immediately noticed by traffickers luring people to enter Britain.

Objecting to Woolas’ “ill-advised and inhumane words”, the Convener, Church and Society Council, Church of Scotland, Ian Galloway, has asserted the Church remains opposed, without qualification, to the detention of children.

The Convener has questioned does he really believe the only way to show that the UK was not seen as a soft touch on immigration was to lock up children in centres such as Dungavel? These were the words of a desperate politician, the Convener asserted.

He also expressed his belief that the sign of a nation’s values was seen most clearly in how it treated those in need especially in the way it expressed hospitality to unannounced strangers arriving because they had nowhere to go. That was not the same as being seen as a soft touch.

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