A Home Office minister has revealed that the number of children held in Dungavel and Oakington detention centres has risen from ten at the end of last year to twenty-four today.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal, a Home Office minister, has stated that Dungavel detention centre, in Lanarkshire, currently holds six families, with ten children, four of whom are of school age. At Oakington detention centre, near Cambridge, there are eleven families, with fourteen children, six of whom are of school age.
In the twelve-month period ending 25 March 2004, a total of 95 asylum-seeking families were taken into detention for some period. In that time, 134 children passed through Britain’s detention system, most for around ten days but some for a much longer period. Children are defined as those under 18 years of age.
Speaking in the House of Lords yesterday, in reply to questions from Liberal Democrat peer Lord Avebury, Baroness Scotland said that ‘the welfare of children concerned is monitored constantly by the excellent healthcare and other staff in removal centres’. She refused demands for an independent system of assessment to protect the welfare of children, as recommended last year by the Chief Inspector of Prisons.
At Oakington, children aged over 12 have no play facilities and are denied any kind of education. Oakington was originally designed to process ‘fast-track’ cases but, due to the numbers of people now being detained, the centre is also used to accommodate families with children who could not be given places elsewhere.
Until two years ago, detention of children for immigration purposes was only allowed for a few days prior to a deportation. Then new rules were introduced to allow for longer detention of children but only if it were confined to exceptional circumstances and for the shortest possible time.
Lord Avebury highlighted two cases in which single mothers and their children, one 7 months old, the other aged 9, were held for 143 and 114 days respectively at Oakington. He also described the case of Jacqueline Konan, who spent 190 days in Harmondsworth detention centre with her daughter Thelma, despite suffering a miscarriage on the day she was taken into custody. After being released on bail, Jacqueline was able to succeed in an appeal against her deportation and also took proceedings against the Secretary of State for wrongful detention. A High Court judge accepted her claim, awarded substantial damages and pointed out that, had the possibility of judicial review not been available, as proposed under the new Asylum Bill, Jacqueline would have been wrongly returned to the Ivory Coast. Lord Avebury added that he ‘wondered how many other Jacquelines there had been who did not have the support of good solicitors’.