In May 2010 the Government announced that it would end the immigration detention of children. But between May and the end of August 2011, 697 children were held at all Greater London and South East ports. Almost one third were unaccompanied children. This could mean as many as 2,000 children could be detained each year.
Shockingly the Home Office is not collecting information on the length of detention or reasons why the children have been detained.
In December 2010 the Government published details of its new policy to end the detention of children; within this the Government retained the right to only hold a few dozen families each year in border cases.
The Children’s Society welcomed the progress made by the Government in response to the Outcry! campaign by pledging to end detention and the closure of the family unit at Yarl’s Wood where children were held for weeks. We are disappointed that after so much progress so many children are still being detained by the UK Border Agency, at the ports and at the new ‘Pre-Departure Accommodation’.
Concerns have also been highlighted by HM Inspector of Prisons in regards to the monitoring of those detained at port following the unannounced inspections of three Heathrow Terminals. These included a lack of awareness among staff of how to refer child victims of trafficking to the correct authorities.
Bob Reitemeier, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said: ‘We are horrified at the excessive numbers of children being held in the South East and very disappointed that Government has not kept these numbers to a minimum. It is of great concern that this appears to be happening without sufficient monitoring centrally by the Home Office, including why they are being held, their age and critically the length of time that they were held – This raises serious questions about the commitment to end the immigration detention of children.
‘We are calling on the Home Office to launch an enquiry in to why excessive numbers of children are being held on entry to the UK and to make sure appropriate measures are in place to meet the welfare needs of what are often extremely vulnerable children.’