Government won’t say how many children are detained in immigration centres

July 20, 2009 at 2:58 pm Leave a comment

yarlswoodYarl’s Wood immigration removal centre

by Tony Grew

A minister in the House of Lords has said calculating the number of children of asylum seekers were detained at two immigration removal centres would be too expensive.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno asked how many children of asylum seekers were detained at Yarl’s Wood and Tinsley House immigration removal centres and for what length of time.

In a written answer Lord West of Spithead, Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, said:

“The information requested on the number of children of asylum seekers detained at Yarl’s Wood and the periods for which they are detained is not yet centrally collated.

“The information requested could only be obtained by the detailed examination of individual case records at disproportionate cost.”

Lord West gave the same answer for Tinsley House.

On June 30th Shirley Williams, Baroness Williams of Crosby, raised the issue in the Lords.

“The Children’s Commissioner, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, has made it clear that the detention of children is harmful to their health and wellbeing,” she said.

“Furthermore, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, on her recent visit to Yarl’s Wood and other detention centres, found that in the past four months alone no fewer than 83 children had been detained for either 28 days or longer, with no clear indication when they would come out of detention.”

Lord Brett said the government “have much sympathy with those points of view, which is why the UK Border Agency seeks to deal with these things sensitively and systematically, to take on board criticism when it is offered and to make the situation fair.

“The facts are that in the first quarter of 2009, 95 children were removed on leaving detention.

“Of those, 30 children were in detention at 31 March, with 20 detained for seven days or fewer; five for 15 to 28 days; five for 29 days and fewer than two months; and five for two months.

“However, I agree entirely that we should look for community-based solutions. There is a further experimental project in Glasgow, which is moving in that direction.”

He added:

“We do not have a cold, hard heart towards the children of asylum seekers, failed or genuine, and we try to treat them with the sensitivity that they deserve.

“However, we come back to the point that if we are satisfied that there is not to be persecution in the country to which they would return and there is a country to which they can be returned, it is the right thing to do.”

The Bishop of Bradford condemned the tactics used against failed asylum seekers.

“I have an interest in this matter, particularly as someone who was told that he would have been arrested, if he had not been a bishop, for my involvement in causing a dawn arrest to be bungled,” he told peers.

“These dawn arrests happen at six in the morning, with teams of people who are almost exclusively male coming in like storm troopers wearing protective jackets.

“I shall come to the question in a moment, but I know of a case in which there was only one female officer for a mother with three children, who had to be supervised by males.

“I think of other cases in which children were left in their nappies for six hours and in their bedclothes with no ability to be changed.

“What guidelines are there for allowing such treatment and are there are any plans for ending those dawn raids?”

Lord Brett said the term “dawn raid” is pejorative and “not one that we recognise in the UK Border Agency’s activities.”

“No visit is made before 6.30 in the morning and it is normally preceded by seeking entry in the normal, peaceful manner of ringing the bell or knocking on the door,” he said.

“I am distressed to hear of the right reverend Prelate’s experience.

“If he cares to write to me with chapter and verse—I am sorry about the pun—I would be more than happy to look at the matter.

“But it is not the policy of the agency and certainly not the Government’s policy that we put people in that situation.

“When a team goes to visit, it is made up as determined by risk assessment. If there is no criminal element involved, it is not thought necessary to do it team-handed.

“I am surprised by what the right reverend Prelate says, because I understand that, normally, female officers and others who are trained to deal with children and who are part of the team go on those occasions.

“I should be interested to hear from him on that and I shall certainly seek to investigate.”

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