Just before Christmas, child detention ends at Yarl’s Wood

New compassionate approach to family removals in force
17th December 2010: Just before Christmas, it is end of detention for children at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre. It closes down to children with immediate effect following a review of the child detention policy. Also in force is a new compassionate approach to family removals.
According to the UK Border Agency, the Government has now unveiled a new, compassionate approach to family removals, following a wide-reaching review and consultation.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: ‘Today marks an enormous culture shift within our immigration system.

‘The coalition government has always been clear that the detention of children for immigration purposes is unacceptable.

"We are placing the welfare of children and families at the centre of a fairer and more compassionate system.

‘In recent years we have seen hundreds of children, who have committed no crime, locked up in detention centres. Today we show how we will ensure it never happens again.’

Immigration Minister Damian Green said: ‘I am delighted to announce the immediate closure of Yarl’s Wood to children, as pledged by the new government earlier this year. We also said we would end the detention of children for immigration purposes, and that’s what we’ve done.

The UKBA will now follow a new four-stage process focused on engagement with families during the decision-making process, giving parents the opportunity to engage in `when and how they return’, when they have been found to have no legal right to stay in the UK. The new measures will ensure a family’s return home is safe and dignified.

Children’s Minister Sarah Teather said: ‘This is a reassuring day for children and families in difficult and stressful circumstances in the immigration system. From today, Yarl’s Wood will shut its doors to families with children going through the immigration process. By doing this the government has delivered on its commitment to ensure no families with children are in Yarl’s Wood over Christmas.

‘I have always passionately believed that the UK needs an immigration system which deals properly with people who have no right to remain in the country but is also humane, treats vulnerable families with respect and safeguards children’s welfare. Today’s announcement proposes radical improvements, which will require a significant culture change, but aim to deliver a fairer, more socially just, and balanced system.’

Maggie Atkinson, Children’s Commissioner for England said in response to the announcement: ‘This welcome news is the culmination of five years’ work under two Children’s Commissioners in which we have consistently reported the conditions in which children subject to immigration controls have been detained and the impact this has had on their welfare. Documentary evidence, visits and face to face interviews with children showed us the damaging impact it has on children’s mental and physical health.

‘I was therefore one of the first to welcome the government’s commitment to end detention. The other Children’s Commissioners in the UK and I constructively contributed to this consultation on alternatives.

‘I am enthused this review now lays out a clear path to end the detention of children for immigration purposes. The closure of the family unit at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre is good news for children and young people.
‘Whilst this is a major step we will continue monitoring progress and working with the government to ensure children are treated properly while in the asylum system.’

The Scottish ministers have welcomed the UK government’s decision to end the detention of child asylum seekers in Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire.

Responding to the developments, Professor Carolyn Hamilton, director of the Children’s Legal Centre, said: “We welcome the Government’s recognition of the need to prioritise the protection of children in the immigration system, and for the long overdue closure of the family wing of Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre.

“However, we are disappointed that the current detention system will not end until May. Furthermore, the proposals for secure and supervised pre-departure accommodation appear to be detention by another name.

“Holding children in accommodation from which their parents are not allowed to leave for up to a week may prove just as psychologically damaging as other forms of detention.

“If we are to have the ‘most child-friendly immigration system in the developed world’ as Nick Clegg has promised, there is still a long way to go. Rebranding detention is not the same as ending it.

“We urge the government to allow independent evaluation of the new processes for returning families which are currently being piloted, and to make good its promise to put child welfare at the centre of the removal process. The best interest of children must be a primary consideration throughout our entire asylum and immigration system.”

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