Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

32.  Memorandum submitted by Save the Children


  1.  The evidence in this memorandum relates to the policy and practice of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) with regard to the detention of children in the UK for the purpose of immigration control. Comments are largely based on Save the Children's recent research report "No Place for a Child—Children in UK immigration detention: Impacts, alternatives and safeguards" (February 2005). The submission highlights the discrepancy between IND's stated policy of detaining children as a last resort and the reality of current practices which see children detained inappropriately. It additionally makes a number of recommendations to the Committee on how the IND might ensure that both its policy and practice on the detention of children take account of domestic child welfare legislation and international human rights standards.


  2.  Save the Children fights for vulnerable children in the UK and around the world who suffer from poverty, disease, injustice and violence. We work with them to find lifelong answers to the problems they face.

  3.  Today, we support work in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to address the needs of local communities and to bring about long-term change for some of the most vulnerable children across the country: those growing up in poverty; those missing out on quality education; those who have come to seek refuge and asylum. All of our work is founded on the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is a comprehensive and internationally recognised set of rights for children.

  4.  Save the Children believe that no child should be detained for immigration purposes. Accordingly, we are concerned that as the Government seeks to reach its targets for controlling immigration as set out in its five-year plan, [156]the detention of children is set to increase. We therefore welcome this inquiry as a timely opportunity to address the Committee on measures that need to be taken by the IND to prioritise the rights and welfare of children in UK detention policy and practice.


Thousands of children in immigration detention each year

  5.  It is the Government's stated policy that, in enforcing immigration controls, families with children will only be held in detention as a matter of last resort and further, that unaccompanied children will not be detained, save in exceptional circumstances. [157]Recent research published by Save the Children in February 2005 suggests that this policy is not reflected in IND practice on either count. [158]The research estimated, on the basis of the limited statistical data available, that around 2,000 children are detained with their families every year for the purpose of immigration control. Many of these children are detained for long periods of time, in some cases well over six months. It further estimated, based on data collected by Cambridgeshire Social Services and the Refugee Council Children's Panel respectively, that hundreds of separated/unaccompanied children are being detained as adults as a result of dispute over their age. [159]

  6.  Such divergence from policy is extremely concerning not only because in many cases these practices violate basic internationally protected child rights, [160]but also because we know from research and investigations, the severely damaging impacts of detention on children's welfare. By way of illustration, we refer the Committee to some of the impacts that have been documented in Save the Children's research and in various reports of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons. [161]


  7.  Research by Save the Children and others[162] shows that detention has serious negative impacts on children's physical and mental health. This can often be exacerbated by the suffering that children endure on behalf of their parents who are detained with them and by the consequent inability of their parents to meet their care needs.

  8.  Physical symptoms of distress are particularly likely in young children; the most commonly reported outcome being the failure to thrive, often linked to unwillingness to eat and associated weight loss. This is also evidenced in the reports of HM Chief Inspector of Prisons. For example, an announced inspection of Oakington Immigration Removal Centre in 2004, found that of the 24 child protection "cause for concern" forms opened in the previous nine months, the majority had been initiated because of concerns about the child's failure to thrive, rather than suspected abuse. The report further documented problems of sleep-deprivation and depression brought on by the trauma of removal from habitual surroundings, particularly school, or from the fact of detention itself.

  9.  The consequences of detention for children's mental health are particularly marked for children who have suffered previous experiences involving violence and extreme hardship and are thus susceptible to re-traumatisation. Case studies gathered by Save the Children also highlight the terrible impacts on mental health for children who have been detained as adults prior to the resolution of their age. It has also been documented that children aged 13 to 17 who have been detained in the UK are often unable to comprehend the reasons for their detention, feel criminalised and lack information about the process or its possible outcomes. One child who featured in Save the Children's research, reported that his three-month detention "was just like a year".


  10.  The UK has one of the most open-ended and unsupervised detention systems in Europe due to a lack of statutory criteria for detention and the absence of a statutory limit on the length of time children can be detained. [163]Despite repeated recommendations from HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, that children should only be detained with their families as a matter of last resort and for no more than a few days, this is not reflected in practice.

  11.  Existing safeguards, which include the provision of written reasons for detention by the IND's Management of Detained Cases Unit (MODCU), the requirement of ministerial authorisation in order to detain children for more than 28 days and the policy of paying pastoral visits to families who are due to be removed, are all variously inadequate from a child welfare perspective. In all three instances, the safeguards lack the necessary independence to ensure that decisions to detain children are comprehensively and systematically reviewed. Many of the families interviewed for Save the Children's research complained of not having received written reasons for their detention nor of having received a pastoral visit prior to being detained to effect removal.


Alternatives to detention

  12.  Given what we know of the impacts of detention on children, Save the Children believes that no child should be detained for immigration purposes but that instead the Government should explore and introduce alternatives to detention such as have been developed internationally. [164]These alternatives should comprise a combination of freedom from detention, a graduated scale of supervision, individualised needs and risk assessment and support, primarily through provision of information and legal advice and representation from the beginning of the asylum determination process. Despite IND's policy to consider all reasonable alternatives before detention is authorised, [165]Save the Children's research indicates that this is not the case in practice.

Independent welfare assessments

  13.  While the detention of children continues to be viewed by the Government as an option, it is crucial that more effective and independent safeguards are introduced to ensure that all decisions to detain children with their families take full account of the consequences of detention on the rights and welfare of each individual child. Such assessments should be made both prior to any decision to detain and for the purposes of reviewing all decisions to detain at seven days and every seven days thereafter. These recommendations are echoed in the reports of HM Chief Inspector of Prisons and the report on the UK of the European Commissioner for Human Rights.

Age disputes

  14.  Save the Children is clear that in cases where the age of a young person is disputed by the immigration authorities, detention should not be authorised until that person has had his or her age properly assessed by social services or an independent, expert panel. Although it is IND policy to grant age-disputed young people the benefit of doubt, the estimated numbers of children who have been detained as adults suggest that this is not the case in practice.

Fast track procedures

  15.  There is no justification for the use of fast track procedures for cases of children in families. While the IND has suggested that children will only be detained for short periods under the fast-tracking procedures, the case study sample in Save the Children's research suggests a different picture with families detained for up to 162 days.

Data needs to be made publicly available

  The publication of statistics relating to the detention of children in the immigration process is currently grossly inadequate. Save the Children urges the Government as a matter of high importance to publish detailed statistics on the numbers of children in detention across the UK, the length of time that children are detained and both the numbers and outcomes of age-disputed cases.

Child protection

  All staff working in removal centres should undergo enhanced Criminal Records Bureau checks, and families with children about whom there are child protection concerns should not be removed from the UK unless and until these issues are resolved.

Stefan Stoyanov

Policy Officer

6 December 2005

156   156 Controlling our borders: Making migration work for Britain, February 2005. Back

157   157 See The Immigration Service Operational Manual, Internal Home Office Publication, London, UK and also "Comments by the Government of the United Kingdom" (Council of Europe, CommDH(2005)6) in response to the Report by Mr Alvaro Gil-Robles, Commissioner for Human Rights, on his visit to the United Kindgom, 4-12 November 2004. Back

158   158 Crawley and Lester, No Place for a Child-Children in UK immigration detention: Impacts, alternatives and safeguards, Save the Children, February 2005. Back

159   159 Ibid, See section 1, pg 8. Between November 2003 and September 2004, 48% of individuals who were age-assessed by Cambridgeshire Social Services were found to be under 18 years of age and were released from detention. Between February 2003 and January 2004, the Children's Panel reported an increase of 292% of detained age-disputed cases referred to the Panel, compared to the previous year. Back

160   160 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1999, specifically article 37; see also the UN Rules on Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty (adopted by General Assembly Resolution 45/113 of 14 December 1990, and UNHCR's Guidelines on the Detention of Asylum Seekers (Revised, 26 February 1999). Back

161   161 See Report on an announced inspection of Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre, 28 February-4 March 2005, London: HM Inspectorate of Prisons, 2005; Report of an announced inspection of Tinsley House Immigration Removal Centre, 1-5 November 2004, London: HM Inspectorate of Prisons, 2004; Report of an announced inspection of Oakington Immigration Removal Centre, 2004; and An inspection of Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre, 2002. Back

162   162 Fit to be detained: Challenging the detention of asylum-seekers and migrants with health needs, Bail for Immigration Detainees and Me«dicins Sans Frontie"res, May 2005. Back

163   163 Baldaccini, A (2004) Providing Protection in the 21st Century: Refugee Rights at the Heart of UK Asylum Policy, London: Asylum Rights Campaign (ARC). Back

164   164 Crawley and Lester (2005), see section 4 which looks at the assistance appearance programme, electronic monitoring, supervised accommodation, community supervision and incentivised compliance. Back

165   165 See above at n 2, Immigration Service Operational Manual. Back

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