Children in detention: ‘it is like a prison’

Both The Children’s Society and Bail for Immigration Detainees work directly with children and families in immigration detention, providing much-needed legal and welfare support. As a result, we have heard first hand the appalling effects of detention on children. Below is just a small selection of quotes from those who have experienced detention. As the OutCry! campaign progresses, we will be working hard to put the voices of children and families at the front and centre of our efforts to persuade the Government to end this shameful practice.

“I am Sophie, I am 7 years old. I go to school at St Mark’s School. I like my school and my teacher and all my friends. I miss them a lot. I miss my house. I don’t like this place where I am so afraid. I don’t want to stay here. I don’t want to go to prison. I am afraid of this people with white shirt they are not nice. I want to return in my house.”

(7 year old)

“Really from the bottom of my heart I would just ask the Home Office to look at the plight of the children in detention, you know to just have another proposal to how they could effect removals without the children being locked up. I know that there are rules that children are not supposed to be in detention long-term, but I’m a typical example, my children were in Yarl’s Wood for more than seventy days, so these things are there. They might say it’s not happening, but these things are happening, and it’s really, really traumatising for the children.”

(Mother detained with her daughter and two sons, all aged between 7 and 11 years old)

Photograph posed by model (C) Shutterstock

“The two months I was in Yarls wood was a life time hell for me. Please let the government think of us children, we do not deserve this treatment…”

(14 year old)

“Yarl’s Wood was like a prison, it was really like a prison. It was like ‘oh my God, we are going to be detained in prison’. There were security guards everywhere, and the children wanted to go outside. For them to stay in the room, lock the door when we enter a room, it was like a prison. And my daughter – she is smaller than my younger sister – even they know and they were asking ‘is this a prison?’ They were asking like that, because the security guards they were around the building and walking all the time. They asked so many questions without a break, and the children were hungry and after asking them many times, after they had taken all the records, they gave us the drink of water. And they were asking questions of the children ‘what’s your name?’ Things like that.”

(Mother detained with her infant daughter for over five weeks)

A young boy, posed by model © Image Source

“I was unhappy when I was taken to Yarls wood prison with mum in early hours when I was about to wake up and go to school. I was ill in a caged van on our way to the prison. I asked why we were in detention… I have never had detention in school before. I have not done anything wrong. I saw bad things happening… there was too much crying…”

(8 year old)

“The security guards there told my younger sister they are going to put her in prison, the family they are going to separate us, and she was so afraid. She did not want to leave the room to go to the education. She did not want to disappear from us. We were sticking together. Even when she was ill and we called for them they didn’t do anything. She was really depressed in the centre, she just vomit, she doesn’t want to drink or eat, and when we call they come to see her and say it is normal, nothing is wrong. With my daughter, she lost so much weight because of her stomach. I think she lost about three kilos. We can’t get the right food. They don’t eat that kind of food and we can’t give them things that they eat you know. Nobody was eating in the centre. So if they left the lunch or the dinner you couldn’t get anything to eat after that.”

(Mother detained with her sister and daughter)

“Before my detention basically you know we adapted well, the children were in school, I was doing well, I was getting counseling and I was just getting past the – you know what I went through at home. [Since being at Yarl’s Wood] my eldest son is the one who is not really well because he’s been telling his teachers, his friends, he just wants to end it all. So that’s why the psychiatric nurses have come in now to his school. In detention, he was very worried, very afraid and you know with my son it’s a thing of like ‘why us mum, why us?’ you know ‘why is this happening to us?’ Because he’s never had any of his mates in such a situation, he’s never seen it before. So he’s feeling isolated. Because he’s now at school, the teachers have told me, he’s withdrawn, he keeps struggling with schoolwork, whereas before he was a brilliant pupil. But now he’s really struggling because he really is behind in his work. In detention, he was not eating at all, he was all bony when we came out, he just used to eat the noodles in the little tuck shop and that’s all he used to eat. I mean he’s been through so much from all the way home and what is happening, because now he’s nearly a teenager so he’s not taking well to all what is happening to him.”

(Mother detained twice with her daughter and two sons, the second time for nearly ten weeks)

“The first time we went into detention, my son was a baby, and he didn’t really know what was happening. But the second time, he was over a year, and it was telling on him. He wasn’t sleeping. It’s not only him, all the children in detention, they don’t sleep. At 2am, 3am, 4am in the morning they are up running. As their parents don’t sleep, they don’t sleep. So it really did affect him, because he was a very happy child, but when we left detention this second time he just started withdrawing…”

(Mother detained twice with her British-born son)

“How would you feel if it’s your child asking you when they will be free again to have freedom to play whenever they want, to see their friends again, to do things like little children not worried of being shouted at by the guards, not to be counted like animals all the time, to eat whatever they want to eat at any time?”

(Mother detained with her son and daughter)

What you can do

Sign up to our campaign and find out more about what you can do to support OutCry!

A young boy, posed by model © Image Source

About the campaign

OutCry! is the campaign to end immigration detention of children. Find out more about the campaign here.

Photograph posed by model (C) Shutterstock

Our direct work with children and families in detention

Read more about BID and The Children’s Society’s direct work supporting children and families in detention.

OutCry! news & events

Have a look at recent OutCry! events, press releases, articles in the media, research publications and newsletters.

Contact OutCry!

On this page you’ll find contact details for OutCry!, including for general enquiries, for support or referrals, and for media enquiries.