Unaccompanied Migrant Children Detained in Inhumane Conditions
Unaccompanied migrant children are being detained at airports for over 24 hours without access to natural light and fresh air, a report has found.
The report- published by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) for London Heathrow and City airports- has also revealed incidents of both adult and child detainees being denied access to their own medication, which ‘inevitably puts their health and wellbeing at risk’.
Further to this, detainees frequently encounter difficulties when attempting to access legal assistance, with the IMB describing the services purported to be accessible through an advertised phone number as ‘non-existent’.
In addition to Heathrow and City airport, the report also looks at the treatment and wellbeing of detainees inside two immigration reporting centres- Becket House, near London Bridge, and Eaton House, located close to Heathrow.
According to the IMB- a body composed of volunteers appointed by ministers to detention centre conditions- the current conditions inside the facilities are simply not good enough, with migrants kept in holding rooms for inhumanely long periods of time.
The detention facility located inside Heathrow Airport itself is described as ‘adequate’ for short periods of time but ‘unsatisfactory if the stay extends more than a few hours, especially for children’ due to the absence of fresh air and natural light.
Approximately 2,000 children- either unaccompanied or with other family members- have been detained inside the facilities between February 2019 and January 2020. Of this number, a total of 73 children were forced to remain inside the facility for more than 12 hours, with a total of 14 held for over 24 hours.
The report also states that 2,145 adult detainees- out of approximately 17,000 in total- were forced to remain inside the facilities for eight to 12 hours over the same timeframe. In excess of 1,000 were detained for more than 12 hours, with 134 held for more than a full day. Lone adult asylum seekers are often held for longer periods of time than other detainees, as the Border Force gives priority to unaccompanied children and family groups with children and grandparents.
The report describes the short-term holding facility at London City Airport as ‘excessively cramped’, with an ‘opporessively small holding room’ and an even smaller family room.
Regarding Becket House and Eaton House, the IMB state that both reporting centres are often overcrowded due to the ‘unnecessarily long wait’ for transport to an Immigration Removal Centre (IRC).
Although the Home Office has stated its intention to address the issues inside detention facilities, the IMB assert that they are still very concerned about the present situation and the ‘length of time it has taken to reach a solution’.
The chairperson of the IMB, Angela Taylor, had this to say:
‘Overall we have found many detention and escort staff to be caring and sympathetic to the detainees they have to manage, including vulnerable individuals and families.
However, detention is often an isolating and uncomfortable experience, especially for those individuals who are waiting for long periods, are tired and anxious after their flights, and in some cases are fearful of what will happen to them if they are sent back to their own country.’
The Home Office has reacted to the publication if the IMB’s report, with an official spokesperson stating the following:
‘Detention is an important tool in the immigration system but it is vital that it is carried out with dignity, respect and protects the most vulnerable.
As this report recognises, we have already made improvements, particularly in relation to managing detainees with mental health issues. ‘We will continue to look for ways to improve detention, for both the care and welfare of detainees and our effectiveness to enforce removal from the UK of those who do not have the legal right to be here.’
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