Charities tell government to stop detaining refugee children - Refugee Council
August 15, 2003

Charities tell government to stop detaining refugee children

Refugee Children’s Consortium press release

Leading charities are calling for urgent action by the government to respond to the findings of the reports of HM Inspectorate of Prisons, published today. The reports detail conditions at Dungavel House, an immigration removal centre where children are detained with their families.

The report repeats Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons recommendation that “the detention of children should be an exceptional measure, and should not in any event exceed a very short period – no more than a matter of days” because “the welfare and development of children is likely to be compromised by detention, however humane the provisions, and that this will increase the longer detention is maintained.” HMIP also call for “an independent assessment of the welfare, developmental and educational needs of each detained child, guided by the principles set out in international and UK domestic law in relation to children” on arrival in detention and at regular intervals thereafter.
HMIP also cite the Scottish education inspectorate, HMIE, who made a follow up visit to Dungavel in July 2003 and found that even the improved educational facilities in the centre were not suitable for more than two weeks and that ‘the positive development of children was compromised by the secure nature of the facility and the uncertainty surrounding the length of stay.’

Charities believe that children are at risk of serious harm in the centres, and that it is not necessary to lock up families.

“These children are being detained without limit of time, following an administrative decision, with no automatic judicial oversight of that decision. Yet there is no evidence that refugee families with children are likely to run away. The government’s decision to detain children interferes with the children’s rights to freedom, to a normal social life and to education.” said Alison Harvey of The Children’s Society, Chair of the Refugee Children’s Consortium.

The charities are concerned that detention centres cannot afford children the care and protection they need, nor uphold their rights under UK and International law, including human rights law – in particular, the child’s rights to freedom, to a normal social life, and to education.

The Consortium also called for detailed statistics on the numbers of children affected to be published, and raised doubts that children are detained only for short periods and where necessary.

“Ministers have repeatedly asserted that detention is used for as short a time as possible and only in cases where it is necessary. But, the experience of member organisations is that families may be detained for long periods, even when they had never lost contact with the authorities”, said Alison Harvey. “Detention facilities are never the best environment for children and may have a serious negative impact on their physical and emotional health and well being.”


Media inquiries please contact – Sue Williams, The Children’s Society’s media office, Tel 020 7841 4420 mobile 07811 406 080 email

From Monday 18 08 03 enquiries can also be directed to Sarah Cutler at Bail For Immigration Detainees on 0207 247 3590,

Notes to Editors

  • The Refugee Children’s Consortium is a group of NGOs who work collaboratively to ensure that the rights and needs of refugee children are promoted, respected and met in accordance with the relevant domestic, regional and international standards.

  • Members of the Refugee Children’s Consortium are The Asphaelia Project, Bail for Immigration Detainees, Barnardos, British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF), Children’s Rights Alliance for England, The Children’s Society, The Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA), The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, NCB, NCH, Refugee Council, Refugee Arrivals Project,and Save the Children UK. The British Red Cross, UNICEF UK and UNHCR have observer status.

  • The government is obliged to protect children from detention. It is UNHCR’s policy that refugee children should not be detained, as set out in their Refugee Children: Guidelines on their Protection and Care. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, in its Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of Child: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland emphasised (paragraph 48a) that the detention of refugees and asylum seeking children must always be a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible time.

  • Beverley Hughes MP, Minister of State for Citizenship and Immigration, stated “…detention, where it takes place, will always be for as short a time as possible and for no longer than is necessary.” (Hansard, 8 May 2003, House of Commons Adjournment debate).