Children detained for too long in UK immigration system

30 November 2009

In a report released Sunday 29 November 2009, the Commons Home Affairs Committee says too many children are being detained, for too long, in UK immigration centres.

Statistics suggest that nearly 1,000 children a year are detained in the UK while they and their families await removal, but no-one is able to say exactly how many separate children are detained. Oversight on the wellbeing of these children is lacking and local authorities and social services must more vigorously undertake their statutory responsibilities with regards to the welfare of these children.

On average, children spend over a fortnight in detention and detention for up to 61 days is not uncommon. The Committee says that detention of a child should only ever be used as a last resort, and it is difficult to justifying detaining families with their children when they are very unlikely to abscond. It costs £130 a day to keep a person in detention; in the most extreme situations, detaining a family of four for between 4 and 8 weeks costs the taxpayer over £20,000.

The Committee notes that despite improvements such as a new, purpose-built school at the Yarl’s Wood facility, which has been heavily criticised in the past, the facility remains essentially a prison. The Committee says sustained improvements in the treatment of children in the immigration system will only result from reform to the overall asylum process - improvements at Yarl’s Wood only ‘paper over the cracks’. The Committee says UKBA should consider alternatives to detention such electronic tagging, reporting requirements and residence restrictions. The detention of young children must only ever be used as a last resort and the length of time spent in detention should be minimised.

The Committee is also concerned that the appeals process and applications for asylum are taking far too long, and notes that 90 per cent of judicial review application never even get leave for hearing. It says the Government must reform the legal system to ensure that the entire process is quicker with much less scope for numerous, often spurious appeals.

Chairman of the Committee Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP said

"It is not acceptable that we are detaining so many children for such long periods of time - these children have done nothing wrong, they should not be being punished. The Yarl’s Wood detention centre remains essentially a prison, and that is no place for a child. It must always be absolutely the last resort to keep a child detained for any length of time. Families with children are not a high risk for “disappearing” or absconding.

"As long as these children are in the UK their welfare is our responsibility – we would like to see the local authority where the child is detained become more involved in their wellbeing and UKBA make regular reports to the Home Secretary and Children’s Commissioner on the situation of children in detention to promote the well-being of these kids and so they are not just languishing for indeterminate periods.

"The legal system remains far too unwieldy and allows too many appeals and legal reviews, the vast majority of which – 90 per cent of judicial review applications — are never heard. We are concerned that these are essentially becoming endless delaying tactics in the removals process, with children stuck in detention suffering as a consequence. All sides must change their behaviour and attitude towards the process. Administration has never been so important, the system must be cleaned up so that those who have been refused settlement in the UK are deported as soon as possible and only detained as a last resort."

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