Alarming numbers of parents are being separated from their children indefinitely in the UK for the purposes of immigration control. It is difficult to imagine any other situation where children could have such scant attention paid to their welfare, says Sarah Campbell.
A new study by UK charity Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) has revealed that alarming numbers of parents are being separated from their children for the purposes of immigration control. Children suffered extreme distress, and in the majority of cases parents were eventually released from immigration detention, their detention having served no purpose at all. This raises serious questions about why they were detained in the first place.
The report is the first UK study on this issue, and examines the cases of 111 parents who were separated from 200 children by immigration detention between 2009 and 2012. In 92 out of 111 cases, parents were eventually released. In 15 cases, parents were deported or removed from the UK without their children to countries including Sri Lanka and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Meanwhile, children were left without their detained or deported parent, sometimes in what can only be classed as appalling situations.
Around 30,000 people are held in immigration detention every year in the UK. Asylum seekers and migrants can be detained at any stage of their claim to remain in the UK- on arrival, with appeals outstanding, and prior to removal. Detainees are held without time limit. The decision to detain them is not made by a judge, but by an immigration officer.
The parents in this research were held for an average of 270 days, and in some cases for over two years. Most, but by no means all of the parents had committed criminal offences and were being held in immigration detention after serving their sentence. Many parents had committed non-violent offences including possession of false documents. Some parents were awaiting the outcome of asylum applications during their detention and some had overstayed student visas.
In 85 out of 200 cases, children did not have another parent to take care of them and were in private fostering arrangements or the care of Local Authorities. The Home Office has a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and yet repeatedly failed to safeguard children when making decisions to detain their parents, with terrible consequences for the children concerned.