Confusion as Home Office waters down Clegg immigration promise

Yarl's Wood to close - but only the family unit
Yarl's Wood to close - but only the family unit

By Ian Dunt

A promise to close down the Yarl's Wood immigration centre has been watered down by the Home Office, just hours after Nick Clegg made it in PMQs.

Speaking about the coalition's promise to end child detention in immigration centres, Mr Clegg said: "I can confirm that the government will make an announcement shortly about how we will deliver on our pledge to end child detention and to close the Yarl's Wood detention centre for good."

The statement triggered an enthusiastic response from the Liberal Democrats, who seized on it as proof the party was having serious influence in government.


"The closure of Yarl's Wood detention centre is a victory for British decency," said Tom Brake, co-chair of the Liberal Democrat committee for home affairs.

"The Liberal Democrats have had a huge influence in government and the closure of Yarl's Wood is a sign of that."

But the Home Office confirmed this afternoon that the centre would remain open. Only the family unit would be closed, as was already presumed to be the case given the promise to end the detention of children.

A Home Office spokesman said: "The new government has been clear in its commitment to end the detention of children and this includes those held in the family unit at Yarl's Wood. We are currently working to find an alternative that protects the welfare of children, without undermining our immigration laws.

"Yarl's Wood family unit will be closed, but the centre will continue to function as an immigration removal facility for adults."

Lib Dem officials insisted Mr Brake's statement was made in the context of the end of child detention only at Yarl's Wood, but had been misunderstood.

The Yarl's Wood centre, in Milton Ernest in Bedfordshire, holds those who have been found to be staying in the UK illegally until they can be removed.

It is the one of the largest such centres in Europe, but was bedevilled by controversy since it was created in 2001.

Considered by most immigration campaigners to be a symbol of the cruelty of the British immigration system, it has been the scene of several hunger strikes, riots and suicide attempts, and one major fire.

In 2005, Manuel Bravo killed himself during his incarceration with his teenage son.

A 2003 report by the prison's inspector branded the centre "not safe".

Last year a damning report by the children's commissioner for England found that children in the centre were denied urgent medical treatment, subject to violence from staff and at risk of serious harm.

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