14 May 2012

More criticism for UKBA over child detention

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An official watchdog has criticised the UK Border Agency for the 'degrading and disgraceful' conditions at Heathrow Airport in which children are detained.

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The detention of children arriving unaccompanied at the UK border is a contentious issue.

The Heathrow Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) claims that children who arrive in the country without a UK visa are kept in small, windowless and poorly ventilated rooms for extended periods of time, sometimes even overnight.

The report found that the rooms had no sleeping accommodation and only hand basins to wash in. There were also many cases of an unrelated adult being kept in the same room as the child.

IMB's annual report said the rooms intended for children, which contain toys, cots and children's books, were too small to accommodate the number of children currently detained by UK immigration authorities.

Almost 20% of the 15,000 people detained by UKBA officials at Heathrow in 2011 were detained for more than 12 hours. While the report did not contain specific figures for children, one case was confirmed of a child being detained for almost 32 hours before a social arrived in December of last year.

"The conditions under which children are being held, and detainees have to endure overnight, are degrading and disgraceful," reads the report. "The detention of children continues, despite the government saying that it would end the detention of children for immigration purposes.

"The IMB recognises that children cannot always be admitted to the country straight away and are sometimes held for their own protection. It recommends that non-custodial, child-friendly accommodation is provided at Heathrow for families with children as a matter of urgency."

The report is the latest scathing criticism in a rough period for the much-maligned UKBA. Since the 'border fiasco' last summer, when UK immigration checks were relaxed 'beyond ministerial permission', the agency has faced increased scrutiny.

"We share the independent monitoring board's concerns about the quality of the accommodation provided by BAA," said a UKBA spokesperson. "We have raised this with them on numerous occasions in the past and will continue to do so to ensure those held at the border have proper facilities to meet their and our needs."

In response to the report, Chris Bryant, Labour's Shadow immigration minister said:

"The Independent Monitoring Board's report provides worrying reading, but the complacent response of UKBA has been even more concerning. I have seen some of the facilities at Heathrow myself and there is a real need to ensure Heathrow as a whole is able to provide decent facilities for children held in short-term detention.

"The Home Secretary must make sure that the report’s recommendations are taken on board and improvements are made to ensure that detainees of any age, but especially children are treated humanely while in short term detention."


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