Every year hundreds of children in the UK are detained in immigration centres because their families face deportation, this policy is harmful and must change say medical experts.
The Royal Colleges of Paediatrics, GPs and Psychiatrists say other countries have found alternatives to detention and want the British government to take a different approach to stop the physical and psychological damage suffered by children. Dr Rosalyn Proop, of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said, ‘These children are among the most vulnerable in our communities and detention causes unnecessary harm to their mental and physical health. The current situation is unacceptable and we urge the Government to adopt alternatives to detention without delay.’
The average stay of children at Yarl’s Wood, the UK’s largest immigration removal centre, is fifteen days but a third are detained for more than a month. Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners says this cannot continue. ‘Detaining children for any length of time, often without proper explanation, is a terrifying experience that can have lifelong consequences. As well as the potential psychological impact, these children invariably experience poor physical health as they cannot access immunisation and preventative services. As a civilised society, we cannot sit back and allow these practices to continue – they are unethical and unacceptable. GPs work at the heart of their local communities and are well placed to work with families, agencies and the government to come up with alternatives that will improve the health and life chances of these children and young people.’
The Royal College of Nursing has also been highly critical of the treatment of child detainees and has backed calls to change the current policy.
David Wood, head of Criminality and Detention for the UK Border Agency, says detaining families is always a last resort. ‘When we do have to detain people, their wellbeing is a priority – Yarl’s Wood is registered with the Care Quality Commission who regulate healthcare in the UK. We agree with the Royal Colleges that families at Yarl’s Wood should get the same level of care available on the NHS, and they do. Medical care includes sixteen full-time nurses including a paediatric and mental health nurse, full-time independent social workers, daily attendance by a GP, child focussed counselling and attending midwives and dentist.’
That view is not shared by charities like Medical Justice, set up in 2005 to expose and challenge medical abuse, it claims many detainees are denied treatment for serious medical conditions.