In the last month, there have been a number of critical reports published into the detention of asylum-seeking children in the UK and the provision of care for them.
Yesterday, Alvaro Gil-Robles, the European Commissioner for Human Rights, commented that ‘it is worrying… to note both the frequency and the duration of the detention of children in the United Kingdom.’ And last month, two reports by the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers, into immigration removal centres Dungavel in Scotland and Tinsley House near Gatwick, found that there were deficiencies in the care of asylum-seeking children at both centres.
The reports into Dungavel and Tinsley House both had striking similarities: both centres were criticised for their lack of safeguards to protect the welfare of children held. On the publication of the reports, Anne Owers commented: ‘I remain extremely concerned about the welfare of children in all the Immigration Removal Centres we have inspected. The Home Office’s Immigration and Nationality Directorate needs to make sure professional and appropriate care is in place wherever children maybe detained: including independent social services assessments of their needs and risks.’
The provision at Tinsley House, which holds men, women and children and is run by Global Solutions Ltd., was found to be ‘seriously deficient’ – with no procedures on detaining children in place. These inadequacies in child protection measures were found to place children at ‘some risk’. The report also found:
- documentation for the use of force needed to be improved;
- complaints and race relations procedures were weak and needed to be strengthened;
- anti-bullying procedures were in their infancy;
- there was no child protection committee and there were very poor links with local social services departments;
- education services were under-developed, especially for children;
- there were no formal processes to prepare detainees for removal, transfer or release.
At Dungavel removal centre, run by Premier Detention Services, the inspection team were ‘extremely disappointed’ to find that previous recommendations (made after an inspection in 2002) on the welfare and development of children had not been implemented and that education provision had deteriorated since the last inspection. The report laid the blame for this deterioration firmly with the Immigration and Nationality Department (IND), for its ‘lack of engagement with proposals to provide independent assessments which would feed into decisions about the appropriate care of children’. The report also found:
- there had been little progress in the quality of legal advice and casework;
- detainees’ access to information about their cases remained problematic;
- access to competent legal advice was still deficient;
- learning provision for children was deficient and required urgent attention;
- communication between families and friends of detainees was difficult;
- there were concerns about the isolation and vulnerability of detainees with little understanding of English.
IND failing children?
In addition, the reports were critical of all immigration removal centres that hold children, not just the two that were inspected, commenting that ‘in none of them has IND set up effective protocols with local authorities, not only to ensure the minimum of child protection, but also to provide for the independent assessments that we have recommended.’ At Dungavel, inspectors found evidence that even the internal procedures laid down for detaining children were not being followed. ‘As the detention of children increases, these omissions become of increasing concern,’ commented the report.