‘Deeply disturbing’: Children held at migrant detention center despite govt pledge
The independent prisons watchdog carries out regular inspections of jails in England and Wales, and reports on the conditions.
Following a recent probe, the body concluded children had been detained in Campsfield House, Oxfordshire, in 2012 and 2013.
The revelation has come as a surprise to many, following the government’s pledge to end the imprisonment of child immigrants in 2010.
Judith Dennis, who works for the Refugee Council, said the revelation that migrant children could be “thrown into adult detention centers” in Britain is “deeply disturbing.”
She told the BBC it is well known that “unaccompanied children arrive in the UK alone, frightened and often traumatized.”
Dennis argued the government appears so determined to lock up asylum seekers that it is wrongly imprisoning young children in the process.
“It's high time the inhumane, inefficient and expensive practice of detaining asylum seekers is consigned to the history books, where it belongs,” she said.
Reflecting on the inspectorate’s controversial findings at Campsfield House, a Home Office spokesman told the BBC the government’s 2010 commitment to end the practice of child detention had not been absolute.
He argued it had always been understood that certain situations may require the temporary forced detention of children.
“These may include border turnaround cases, or cases involving unaccompanied children, until alternative accommodation is arranged,” the spokesman said.
Inspectors visited Campsfield House in August 2014. Their damning report indicates in two particular cases staff at the facility had taken too long to discern youngsters’ ages, while another child was detained despite evidence they were under 18.
The report reveals in December 2012 a detainee had been assessed by state social services as being of adult age, and was subsequently held for over two months.
But roughly 62 days later, a second investigation was launched, which revealed the detainee was in fact only 16.
In a separate case in May 2013, a Home Office official confirmed the detention of a teenager was acceptable, despite the fact computer records indicated he was only 17. After he had been detained for three days, the error was discovered and the young man was released.
Overall, the inspectors found Campsfield House to be a “safe and decent establishment” where staff worked sensitively and professionally with detainees.
But their report argued some detainees in the center had been adversely impacted by “significant weaknesses” in the processes used to monitor and detain immigrants.
Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick said overall the inspection uncovered positive findings. But he warned undocumented children and victims of torture should not be kept in immigration detention centers.
Hardwick argued reforms to state processes were necessary to ensure such errors did not occur in the future.
The detention of immigrants in Britain has long roused concern among human rights campaigners and academics.
In November, members of Oxford University’s Amnesty International (OUAI) group sent an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron demanding the release of all asylum detainees in Britain, and the cancellation of plans to expand Campsfield House.
The letter was also signed by nine heads of Oxford Colleges and sixty-one senior professors.
The signatories warned the policy of detaining immigrants is “contrary to the spirit of democracy, the Human Rights Act, and the United Nations Convention on Refugees.”
The letter concluded immigrants should not be detained for administrative purposes “without trial, without time limit, without proper judicial oversight and with little chance of bail – and thus treated worse than criminals.”
Commenting on the UK’s policies of detaining immigrants, Jo Hynes, Oxford University Amnesty International president, told local news site Cherwill “immigration detention doesn’t act as a supposed deterrent to immigration” in Britain but regularly violates “basic human rights.”
“The UK detains more migrants, for longer and with less judicial oversight than any other country in Europe,” she added.