Detaining children at Yarl’s Wood immigration centre is still “distressing and harmful”, according to a damning report from the Children’s Commissioner for England published today (17 February).
Although some of the Commissioner’s recommendations following a previous visit to the centre earlier in 2009 have been upheld, Sir Al Aynsley-Green claims that Yarl’s Wood remains “no place for a child”. The research shows that the 1000 children detained in the centre each year often face “extremely distressing” arrest and transportation procedures, and are subjected to prolonged and sometimes repeated periods of detention.
In addition, Aynsley-Green notes failures to assess the mental wellbeing of children both on arrival, and during their detention, particularly when children’s behaviour notably changed. He also raises “significant concerns” with health services, including one incident where a nurse failed to diagnose a broken arm in a young girl, who then waited 20 hours before being taken to hospital.
“Ultimately, I would like to see a far faster process and an end to the detention of children in the asylum system”, the Commissioner said. “We stand by our contention that the arrest and detention are inherently damaging to children and that Yarl’s Wood is no place for a child.”
The UK Border Agency has hit out against the findings, stating that detaining children with their families is only used as a last resort, and that families must be detained when courts have denied their asylum claims and they have refused to return home voluntarily.
The Commissioner’s report adds to a growing body of medical evidence that detention can cause serious harm to the mental and physical wellbeing of children. Yarl’s Wood immigration centre in Bedfordshire opened eight years ago, and is the main removal centre for women and their families.
In response to the findings of the report, Donna Covey, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said:
“This report is a welcome and timely reminder of the harm that is caused by detaining children. Whilst it recognises that some improvements have been made, many of the findings are extremely worrying.
“Children continue to be terrified by dawn raids, sometimes being separated from their parents, being removed from their houses without knowing what is going to happen to their things.
“Perhaps most worrying is that some incidents of harm to children’s physical and mental health are still not being properly treated or recorded. There can be no excuse for perfunctory examinations of children or ignoring behaviour such as bedwetting when a child previously did not have this problem.
“These are children we are talking about. It is unacceptable that they are detained at all. Even if all the Commissioner’s recommendations about procedure were followed to the letter, there is no escaping the harm that is caused by locking children up. The government must heed the Commissioner’s words and end this abhorrent practice now.”
See press coverage of the story here:
Independent: Stop locking up asylum children, ministers told
BBC: Child detention still a concern
BBC: ‘Never nice for children’ – life in a detention centre
Guardian: Yarl’s Wood children face extreme distress
Times: Sir Al Aynsley-Green: detention at Yarl’s Wood must end