Nearly 700 children detained in UK's south-east ports between May and August 2011
17.10.2011 Bookmark and Share

"It was simply a moral outrage that last year the Labour government imprisoned, behind bars, 1,000 children who were innocent of any wrongdoing whatsoever." Last July, Nick Clegg clearly expressed his disapproval of the detention of children for immigration purposes, leading to the closure of the family unit at Yarl's Wood detention centre. [1]

The coalition government made ending immigration detention for children one of the key aspects of its programme for government in 2010. [2] The detention of children in the UK has long been criticised by many organisations such as Bail for Immigration Detainees and the Children's Society (see the Outcry Campaign) and public bodies, in particular the Children's Commissioner in England [3] and regular reports by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons. [4]

However the UKBA is still able to detain children at Tinsley House and the Pease Pottage's "pre-departure accommodation centres." [5]

Despite its position that "detention of children shall cease" [6] the Children's Commissioner has welcomed the improvement of detention conditions for children and their families, especially because of the involvement of the Barnardos organisation in the centre and "their commitment to being child-centred and prioritising the welfare of the children who are detained." [7]

While it can be argued that detention of children is used as a last resort and for a short period of time, recent figures released by the government following an FOI request by Children's Society reveal that almost 700 children have been detained at all Greater London and South East Ports. [8]

So what did the coalition government mean when it said it would end the detention of children for immigration purposes? Are entry points such as "ports" considered to be extra-territorial (as is the case with French "transit zones") and therefore excluded from national statistics?

Reports have continuously documented the detrimental effect of the detention of children. [9] The Children's Society estimates that more than 2,000 children could be detained each year at UK entry points.

[1] The Guardian, 21.7.10, Clegg signals end of child detention with Yarl's Wood family unit closure
[2] The Coalition, Our Programme for Government, p.21
[3] (a) Children's Commissioner in England, The arrest and detention of children subject to immigration control
(b) Children's Commissioner in England, The Children's Commissioner for England's follow up report to: the arrest and detention of children subject to immigration control
[4] HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Reports of unannounced inspections in immigration short-term holding facilities
[5] Statewatch, Ending the detention of children for immigration purposes? New "pre-departure accommodation centre" for families almost ready to open
[6] Ibid at 3(b), p.3
[7] Child's Commissioned for England, Children's Commissioner welcomes Barnardo's work to support welfare of families in the immigration system
[8] (a) Children's Society, Almost 700 children detained in three months
(b) The Guardian, UKBA accused of breaking pledge to end child detention
[9] Medical Justice, Health difficulties of children in immigration detention

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