11 May 2011

On the day (11 May 2011) that the government has promised to end the immigration detention of children, new research published by The Children's Society warns of the on-going dangers of detaining children.

It is critical that lessons are learnt from the past and applied to the new detention arrangements in pre-departure accommodation, so that the welfare of children is paramount, The Children’s Society report says.

 ‘What Have I Done? The experiences of children and families in UK immigration detention’, examines the experiences of 32 families detained prior to the coalition’s pledge, in May 2010, to end the immigration detention of children.

The research emphasises the importance of safeguarding issues around the use of immigration detention and the impact on children’s physical and emotional health.

Some of the most shocking experiences, and those that the government should be most keen to avoid in future, include:

  • Children witnessing traumatic events, including hunger strikes and suicide attempts and the use of restraint on their parents.
  • High levels of stress, fear, confusion, and feelings of hopelessness and degradation experienced by family members in detention.
  • Many children did not eat, or lost weight, during detention. Families had medication removed upon arrival or missed important medical appointments as a consequence of detention. One child was detained for a second time despite suffering from post traumatic stress disorder after her first detention.
  • The majority of children experienced emotional distress during detention, including sleeplessness, nightmares and constant crying.
  • After release from detention, the majority of families experienced on-going and persistent effects on their mental and emotional health.

The Children's Society is concerned that the UK Border Agency’s new pre-departure accommodation could replicate some of these experiences. Families can still be held for up to a week in ‘exceptional circumstances’. Questions about the potential impact on children of separating families during the returns process also remain.

Recommendations in the report include:

  • There should be no attempts to split families in order to detain parents without their children.
  • For those families who will be held in pre-departure accommodation, the health and welfare of children should be monitored and the risks of harm carefully managed.
  • Asylum seekers should receive good quality legal advice earlier on in the process.
  • Children’s views should be taken into account on all issues that affect them.

The Children's Society’s Chief Executive, Bob Reitemeier, said: 'The Children's Society is delighted that children will no longer be detained in Yarl’s Wood for long periods of time. The government has made progress so far by reducing the numbers of children detained and the length of detention since the pledge was made in May 2010. 

'It remains to be seen how exactly the new arrangements will be used. We will be paying particular attention to whether detention in pre-departure accommodation will be used as a genuine last resort, for the shortest time possible, and in the most exceptional cases. It is not yet clear if it will be just another form of detention that harms children.

 'It is critical that lessons are learnt from the past and that the needs and welfare of children in the asylum system are at the heart of the process.'


Media contacts

Both a summary of the research and the full report are available to download.

For more information, or to speak to a family who has experienced detention, please contact Rafi Cooper in The Children's Society press office. Tel: 020 7841 4526. Email: rafi.cooper@childsoc.org.uk . Alternatively, please ring 020 7841 4422 to speak to another member of the media team. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508.

Notes to editor:

The Children’s Society wants to create a society where children can be children, childhood is respected and every child is valued for who they are. Our approach is driven by our Christian values and by the voices of children and young people, who are at the heart of all we do. In 2009 The Children’s Society published The Good Childhood Inquiry, the UK's first independent national inquiry into childhood. Its aims were to renew society's understanding of modern childhood and to inform, improve and inspire all our relationships with children. The Children's Society is continuing to improve this understanding of issues affecting children through all of its ongoing work.