Stop locking up children - campaign launches to end 'inhumane and unnecessary' policy - Refugee Council
March 28, 2006

Stop locking up children – campaign launches to end ‘inhumane and unnecessary’ policy

More than two thousand children a year are locked up by the UK Government for immigration purposes, a major new campaign will claim today (Tuesday 28th March) (1).

‘Detention is like a cage’ says a 7-year-old from Iran

Launching the campaign, No Place for A Child, The Refugee Council (UK, Scotland and Wales), Save the Children and Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) are calling on the Home Secretary Charles Clarke to end this inhumane and unnecessary practice and to use viable alternatives that take into account children’s welfare.

The children are detained in immigration detention centres with their families, with one in three children held for more than a week(2) – and some for months. They do not know for how long they will be detained, and can be held for an unlimited time. These children have committed no crime.

The campaign is demanding an end to detention for children because:

  • It causes children distress, depression, creates behavioural changes and confusion(3).
  • It can cause and exacerbate physical health problems; and lead to lack of sleep and weight loss(3)
  • It disrupts a child’s education, and can seriously undermine their ability to learn(3)
  • It runs contrary to various international standards, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child(3)

The Home Office does not publish figures showing exactly how many children are detained with their families. The campaign is calling on Charles Clarke to release information clarifying the issue.

Jasmine Whitbread, Save the Children Chief Executive says:

‘Children come to the UK with their families to seek protection. Yet these already vulnerable children can find themselves forcibly removed from their familiar surroundings – home, school, friends, clothes and toys. They are locked up having committed no crime. This is no way to treat children.

“Unless Charles Clarke acts now children will continue to suffer the consequences of detention – becoming depressed, suffering from nightmares, and having difficulty eating.”

The campaign believes that alternative methods should be considered, such as a successfully trialled system where asylum seekers are monitored by case-workers. This system has been proven to be both more effective and cheaper than detention.

Maeve Sherlock, Chief Executive of The Refugee Council, says:

“Detention is unnecessary, it’s expensive, and it’s inhumane. There are viable alternatives which are far less costly in both financial and human terms. Recent statistics reveal a high number of cases of self-harm in immigration centres – these places cause a huge amount of emotional trauma, and they are definitely no place for a child.”

Tim Baster, Legal Director of BID, says:

“Detention of children is morally wrong and must stop immediately. We must speak out to defend these children, who are the only ones in this country who can be locked up without any legal process and without having committed any crime.”

A woman from Togo was detained with her eight-year-old son for 28 days(4). One morning a dozen immigration officers broke down her door and took them to a detention centre:

“I will never forget the feeling of being in detention. I was always tired and ill. I didn’t sleep. My son was always crying, he didn’t want to go to the school there. He still has nightmares, until today. He is afraid of knocking on the door, and he is even afraid when letters arrive. One year later and he is afraid of letters. It is so scary.”

Today (March 28th) the campaign will be launched in the UK Parliament when MPs team up for a joint meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Groups on Children and Refugees. The groups will commission a joint report into alternatives to detention, and call for more transparent statistics.

Anyone wishing to join the campaign to stop the Government from locking up children can log onto the No Place for a Child website where they can lobby the Home Secretary and their MP and find out more information.

ENDS

Notes to Editors
1. The campaign is asking for more transparent figures showing how many children are being detained. Based on evidence gathered from the last year, we estimate that at least 2000 children were detained. These figures have been gained from the following evidence:

  • Between May and October last year, 897 children were held in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre alone. This would average out at 1794 over the year.
  • Children were also held at a number of other detention centres in the UK: Oakington (closed October 2005), Dungavel in Scotland and Tinsley Wood, near Gatwick.For example, on 25th June 2005, 40 children were held at Yarl’s Wood while 30 were at Oakington. This would suggest that several hundred children were held at Oakington until it was closed.
  • On Friday March 24th 2006, 43 children were being held in Yarl’s Wood, and two in Tinsley Wood.

2. In the most recent Asylum Statistics, for the 4th Quarter of 2005, 455 minors left detention. Of these, 150 had been in detention for eight days or more.

3. All evidence from No Place for a Child, a Save the Children report, 28/02/05. See here: www.savethechildren.org.uk/noplace

4. For full case studies or interviews, please contact either press office

5. The charities co-ordinating the No Place for a Child Campaign are: Save the Children, The Refugee Council, Bail for Immigration Detainees, Welsh Refugee Council, Scottish Refugee Council.

6.Separate action will be taking place in Wales and Scotland. For more information please contact the relevant press offices:
Welsh Refugee Council: Linda Timberlake on 029 2043 2994
Scottish Refugee Council: Andrew Dougal on 07734 030763
Save the Children Scotland: Richard Saville-Smith: 07909527629

For further information and interviews contact press office: Chris Pitt 0207 346 1213 (Switchboard: 0207 346 6700). For urgent or out of hours inquiries ring 0870 0555500 and ask for pager 865169.