When the UK’s new coalition government announced their policies in May 2010 one of the first topics they addressed was the detention of children in immigration removal centres.
The detention of children in UK immigration removal centres – the formal name for immigration detention centres – has been a growing cause of concern for many years. The government and the immigration authorities have had to strike a balance between being seen to be tough on illegal immigrants or failed asylum seekers and observing the civil rights of individuals who may actually have a legal right to be in the UK and / or who are not guilty of any crime.
In any other circumstances the detention in custody of an innocent person would be contrary to all laws and morals of the UK. However, at any one time hundreds of foreign nationals, many of whom may be innocent of illegal activity, are being deprived of their liberty. The situation as it relates to the detention of innocent children is particularly troubling.
Children in UK Detention Centres
The detention of children in immigration removal centres is a topic which transcends many of the usual arguments in relation to foreign nationals who are in the UK without leave to remain. The idea of locking up innocent children can leave a very bad taste in the mouth – even for some of those who take a very hard line on immigration to the UK.
Home Office figures released in late 2009 showed that 1315 children were held in detention centres over the course of a preceding year. 889 of those were held in detention for longer than 28 days.
UK Immigration Detention Centres Which Hold Children
The majority of these children are held at Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire. Children have also been held at Tinsley House in Sussex and Dungavel in Scotland. The Scottish government and church have both been vocal in their opposition to the detention of children for immigration purposes. The practice officially ended at Scotland’s Dungavel immigration removal centre in May 2010. However, this has simply led to some families being transferred to a detention centre in England. Further, it has emerged that children may still be held at Dungavel – at least on a temporary basis – until an alternative system is in place.
New Policies on the Detention of Children for Immigration Purposes
The UK’s coalition government has been formed by two parties with very different immigration policies. However, one of the first announcements made by the newly formed government in May 2010 was the intention to put an end to the holding of children in UK detention centres. In an attempt to achieve this aim as quickly as possible, the UK government initiated a review of how to end the detention of children and invited contributions to the debate from interested parties and members of the public. This open consultation period was due to end on 1st July 2010, reflecting the sense of urgency surrounding this subject.
The UK’s Review into Children in Detention Centres
The UK Border Agency, which conducted the review, will work together with other organisations and agencies to implement a strategy to put an end to the detention of children in immigration holding facilities – both in the UK and in other countries.
Amongst the areas explored by the review are:
- increasing the voluntary removal of foreign nationals who have been refused leave to remain in the UK;
- developing a forced removal system which protects the welfare of children;
- assessing successful immigration systems used in other countries; and,
- evaluating the methods currently used in the UK to process asylum claims involving families with children.
Public meetings are also being held as part of the review allowing ordinary people to give their views on the subject.
Alternatives to Detaining Children in Immigration Removal Centres
In 2009 a pilot scheme went into operation in Glasgow. As part of this scheme asylum-seeking families were housed in former council homes. The desire to end the detention of children has to be balanced against the need to keep track of foreign nationals who have not been granted leave to remain in the UK. It has been suggested that a system of electronic tagging could be employed to monitor those who are not held in detention centres.
The UK’s coalition government initially claimed that child detention for immigration purposes would be ended within a few months. However it is likely that it may take considerably longer than this before a new system can be implemented – one which ends child detention but is also compatible with the broader immigration policies of the coalition government.