16 Sep 2010

In the same week that Medical Justice released a report documenting further the damaging effects of immigration detention on children, The Guardian reported that the Government plans to dilute its pledge to end the practice once and for all. Despite the fact that the Prime Minister and Nick Clegg have both promised to end child detention, the immigration minister, Damian Green announced in response to a parliamentary question that the government aims only to ‘minimise’ the detention of children.

“At the moment, we are looking at alternatives to detention for children,” he said. “It is our intention to minimise the detention of children in the future as a whole and, therefore, that aspect of Yarl’s Wood’s use will disappear, but clearly not its use for adult women.”

In response to newspaper reports of ‘a climb down’ the Home Office issued the following statement: “Significant progress has been made in working towards the commitment to end child detention for immigration purposes and we are currently piloting some proposed changes to our approach developed with partners.

“We have already announced that the family unit at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre will close.

“The Coalition: Our programme for Government, published on 20 May, said: 'We will end the detention of children for immigration purposes.' That remains.”

The Medical Justice report documented yet more evidence of the negative impact of detention on children: ‘State Sponsored Cruelty: children in immigration detention’. Evidence from 141 cases from 87 families over a period of six years showed that 74 - just over half - the children experienced psychological distress and displayed symptoms such as bedwetting, heightened anxiety, food refusal and self-harm, including three girls who tried to take their own lives. Additionally, 92 children suffered physical health problems (e.g. fever, abdominal pain, coughing blood), which were either caused or exacerbated by their detention. Fifty of these children did not receive adequate healthcare or treatment for these problems.

In view of the damage done to children by detention, we are resolute in urging the government to end this practice without delay. Following the news reports, The Children's Society and Bail for Immigration Detainees expressed concern about Damian Green’s comments and issued a statement calling on the Minister to re-affirm the Government's commitment to ending child detention through root and branch reform of the asylum and immigration system.