Child detention: Immigration centres risk 'lasting psychological damage'

Immigration controls have taken priority over government's commitment to end child detention.
Immigration controls have taken priority over government's commitment to end child detention.
Adam Bienkov By

Children held in immigration detention centres are being put at risk of "lasting psychological damage" it was claimed today, following a new report exposing the trauma facing families being removed from the UK.

The coalition government are officially committed to ending child detention in the UK.

However, the official prisons watchdog found that unnecessary and disproportionate force was still being used to detain and remove families.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons found that children held at the Cedars detention centre in Crawley have been exposed to excessively frightening and disturbing treatment.


"Whatever one’s views on immigration, the distress described in this report of the families passing through the centre and its potential impact on the children involved is disturbing," the report found.

Inspectors observed officers in helmets and body armour, physically breaking down a family's front door, without knocking first.

They found this was disproportionate and could potentially have been "a terrifying event" for the children.

"It was difficult to see how the children’s welfare was being promoted in line with statutory requirements," they added.

Of 42 families who passed through the centre last year. Suicide and self-harm measures were initiated 25 times.

One adult detainee became so distressed he "tried to self-harm by placing a cord around his neck and hitting himself."

The detainee was phsically restrained by officers for two hours and denied access to his family for more than 12 hours.

The report also describes "inappropriate" tactics used to persuade children on to planes.

According to the report, officers: "made a number of inappropriate suggestions to persuade the children to board, such as 'if mummy goes, you are going to be very lonely' and 'there's nothing to stop you coming back [if you
go]'.

"The younger child did not appear distressed or to understand what was happening. It was difficult to assess the impact on the older child who was quiet and resolute. At one point she said that if the family returned, her father would be killed. Barnardo's assessment had been that she was withdrawn and taking on her parents' problems."

Inspectors found evidence that detainees were being forcibly removed from the UK, even when there were complaints and medical evidence that they had been assaulted by officers.

Campaigners against child detention said the report showed that vulnerable children were still being put at risk.

"This report shines a much needed spotlight on the extremely disturbing and on-going practice of detaining innocent children for administrative convenience," Refugee Council chief executive Maurice Wren said.

"The instances described in this report of immigration officers using unnecessary force to detain people and the particular case of officials battering a family’s door down without knocking first is simply unacceptable.

"Children within the asylum system are already extremely vulnerable and imprisoning them causes lasting psychological and emotional damage.

"It’s disgraceful that children are consistently put at further risk by the authorities who are supposed to be protecting them. Children must be treated as children first, regardless of their immigration status.

"It’s essential that the Government finally lives up to its pledge to end child detention once and for all."

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