Home Affairs Committee Contents

Memorandum by Bail for Immigration Detainees

  I am writing to thank you for your letter of 17 September 2009 following the evidence presented by Bail for Immigration Detainees to the Home Affairs Select Committee on children and immigration detention. Having received your letter and having read the uncorrected transcript of the evidence session, I am writing to draw your attention to information pertinent to issues raised by Dave Wood, Strategic Director, Criminality and Detention at the UK Border Agency.

  According to the uncorrected transcript, in response to question 25 from you, Mr Wood stated

    "I do feel that our immigration policy would be in difficulty if we did not have the ability to detain them [families] because it would act as a significant magnet and pull to families from abroad to come to the United Kingdom because, in effect, once they got here they could just say, 'I am not going.' Whilst issues are raised about absconding, that is not our biggest issue. It does happen but it is not terribly easy for a family unit to abscond."

  We are concerned about Mr Wood's answer as it confirms that the Border Agency, like organisations that support families in detention such as BID, agree that the likelihood of families absconding is very low. This renders the need for the policy of systematically detaining families entirely without evidence. What is evident is the harm that this policy does to children. Mr Wood's argument is that the health of these children is an unfortunate but necessary consequence of a policy to deter families overseas who may at some unknown point in the future make their migration choices based on their knowledge of this policy. This approach is entirely at odds with the Border Agency's forthcoming duty under Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 to safeguard and promote the welfare of children under its care in the UK (equivalent to Section 11 of the Children Act 2004). We would be grateful if you could raise these concerns with the Border Agency when the Committee visits Yarl's Wood as part of its inquiry.

  Mr Davies later asked Mr Wood (question 34),

    "So probably it [detaining families] is slightly less than the cost of housing a family of four and continuing to provide them with benefits, so it is cheaper for the taxpayer than to continue to house someone in a house?"

  To which Mr Wood responded, "Absolutely it is, yes, or housing someone in a hotel." We believe this is untrue. On 14 January 2009 in response to a question from Chris Huhne MP, Jacqui Smith MP replied "The average daily cost of detaining a person within the immigration removal centre estate is £130" [4]ie over £900 per week. In response to a further question from Chris Huhne on 23 February 2009 about the cost of accommodating asylum seekers in the community, Jacqui Smith responded "During 2007-08 the accommodation element of section 4 support was an average of £97 per person per week and the accommodation element of section 95 support was £96 per person per week." [5]We would be grateful if the Committee could press the Border Agency to disclose the basis upon which they believe it is cheaper to detain a family rather than support them in the community.

  In answer to Mr Russell's question (38), on whether the length of time children are detained is increasing, Mr Wood stated

    "It is not increasing. Last year the average length detention (sic) for family units and for children in particular was 16 days. It is 15.58 days this year so far, so it is not much less but it is not increasing."

  Later on in the evidence session, in response to a similar question from Mrs Cryer (question 51), Mr Wood again confirmed

    "Yes, the average detention is, as I say, just under 16 days for families, but 50% of our family cases are removed within a week and 70% within two weeks, so the vast majority go within that period of time."

  When Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons visited Yarl's Wood in 2008 she found:

    "The centre's own figures indicated that the average length of children's detention had increased since the previous inspection from eight to 15 days. On the first day of the inspection, there were 56 children under the age of 16 at the centre (see population profile at appendix II). In the previous 10 months, the average age of detained children was between five and seven years and the total number held in any one month ranged from 122 to just two. Of 450 children held at Yarl's Wood between May and October 2007, which included a period of chicken pox quarantine, 83 were held for more than 28 days. In the same period in 2005, more children passed through but the number spending more than 28 days at the centre was substantially lower at 27. The recent average length of stay for children was 15 days. A number of children had experienced longer cumulative periods of detention, which was worrying given the adverse effects that extended detention almost inevitably has on children and their families. However, the monitoring figures that were provided to the team to show length of cumulative detention were found to be wholly inaccurate. For example, children who we were confidentially told had been in detention for 275 days were later said to have been in detention for 14 and 17 days. At the end of their stay, most children were given removal directions or temporarily released, with very few transferred elsewhere." [6]

  In other words she believed that both in terms of the average length of detention, and in terms of the absolute numbers of children detained, the period of detention had increased. This concern was also flagged in the concluding comments of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in October 2008. The Committee stated that the UK government should "intensify its efforts to ensure that detention of asylum-seeking and migrant children is always used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time, in compliance with article 37(b) of the Convention." [7]

  In our experience of supporting families, we continue to work with a significant number of families detained for prolonged periods. Between August 2008 and July 2009 we worked with 79 families, only 30% of whom were removed from the UK at the end of their detention. Of the 43 families BID worked with who were detained as a family unit, the average length of detention was six weeks. One family was detained for 15 weeks and 14 families were detained for longer than two months. Of the nine split families BID supported (families whose children were not detained but who were separated from their primary care-giver by detention) the average length of detention was 30 weeks ie over six months. Official Home Office statistics released in August 2009 also showed that nearly one third of children are detained for more than one month.[8] We would be grateful if the Committee would press the Border Agency to give a break down of the reasons why children are detained for prolonged periods (including the proportion of families detained with outstanding asylum/immigration applications, with no removal directions set, with A-Levels/GCSE examinations pending in the next three months, while family members are unfit to fly, or when they have no travel documents).

  Finally, when Mr Winnick asked Mr Wood (question 44) about the possible psychological repercussions of detaining children at a young age, Mr Wood responded

    "I would really encourage this group to visit Yarl's Wood—it is a family-friendly environment. There are locked doors on the outside, let us not escape that, so it is detention in that sense but it does not feel like a prison or anything like that inside. It is family-friendly in how the staff are dressed and how the regime is run there."

  This directly contradicts what children say about their experience of being detained at Yarl's Wood. Whatever adults choose to call immigration detention it is clear what children think— "it is like a prison". When the Children's Commissioner for England visited Yarl's Wood in 2008, a child told him "just the initial sight of the place, you know you're in a prison with two big gates. As soon as you see it you know." [9]This view was confirmed through our July 2009 research "Out of sight, out of mind: experiences of immigration detention in the UK" (a copy is enclosed) which, by way of example, includes the following testimony from a mother detained with her child for over five weeks

    "Yarl's Wood was like a prison, it was really like a prison. There were security guards everywhere, and the children wanted to go outside. And my daughter was asking 'is this a prison?' because the security guards were around the building and walking all the time. They asked so many questions without a break, and the children were hungry. After they had taken all the records they gave us a drink of water."

  We would be grateful if the Committee during its visit to Yarl's Wood would speak with families and their children about their experiences of detention. We would also be happy to facilitate a meeting between the Committee and families who have been released from detention if that would be of assistance.

  I would like to end by thanking the Committee for their interest in this area of Home Office policy and for the opportunity to give evidence based on our work with this vulnerable group of children. If there are further pieces of information which would assist the Committee with its inquiry please do not hesitate to contact me.

October 2009

4   Hansard 14 Jan 2009 : Column 787W Back

5   Hansard 23 Feb 2009 : Column 138W Back

6   Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, Report on an announced inspection of Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre (4-8 February 2008), August 2008 http://www.justice.gov.uk/inspectorates/hmi-prisons/docs/yarls_wood_2008-rps.pdf Back

7   UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 20 October 2008, para 71a

http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/docs/AdvanceVersions/CRC.C.GBR.CO.4.pdf Back

8   Based on figures for the second quarter of 2009 from Home Office, Control of Immigration: Quarterly Statistical Summary (April-June 2009), 27/08/09

http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs09/immiq209.pdf Back

9   11 Million, The Arrest and Detention of Children Subject to Immigration Control: A report following the Children's Commissioner for England's visit to Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre, April 2009 http://www.11million.org.uk/content/publications/content_361 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 18 November 2009