Minister on detaining failed asylum seekers’ children

Meg Hillier, the Home Office Minister responsible for children in detention, was asked if locking up children of failed asylum seekers could ever be justified.

The presenter is JO COBURN

HILLIER: Let’s be clear, nobody wants to see children detained. Certainly I don’t. But we do have an immigration system and we have rules. And when somebody doesn’t have legal right to stay in the country, we ask them to leave voluntarily, and if they don’t we have to have a way of getting them out of the country.

Now with children being detained I’m faced with a number of options.

One is that we just stop it altogether, uhm but then we would have children, I think, with a very high price on them, because we’d actually be saying say if you have a child you will never be detained to be deported and I think that it would raise the risk of child trafficking and put a very high price on a child, so I’d be very reluctant to go down that route.

And equally I wouldn’t want to see children separated from their parents. Because I think that wouldn’t be a good idea either.

QUESTION: But what about the conditions that they are actually kept in while they’re waiting to be deported?

HILLIER: Of course the it’s never going to be easy when a child is taken away from home with their parents to go into a detention centre and of course the children who are put in detention are the children of parents who don’t want to acknowledge that they have to leave the UK, that they do not have a legal right to stay.

So we always try to encourage parents to take voluntary return and let’s be clear that’s a very generous package from the UK taxpayer. That’s up to £4,000 worth of support for every member of the family.

And we do need to do more I think to encourage people to take voluntary return and I’m working, hard, to see how much better we can make that offer, perhaps from agencies that aren’t government.

QUESTION: What work are you doing with the people who run Yarl’s Wood who are actually involved in the detention in terms of their actual treatment of children at the time?

HILLIER: It’s run by Serco on behalf of the Home Office and er I’ve been to visit the centre and I’ve spoken to the centre manager there and as she put it to me she’s spent her life in the prison and the detention services delivering as she put it, care, and she sees no difference in doing that at Yarl’s Wood.

QUESTION: What about the psychological damage that must be done to children who are locked up and treated it must be said a little bit like prisoners?

HILLIER: It is not easy. And no-one’s going to pretend that it’s a great place for a child to be.

No-one would want to see children locked up willy nilly. But let’s be clear. These children are with their family. It’s their parents who are refusing to accept that they have reached the end of the line.

QUESTION: Do you think there’ll be a case or an argument that might be put in the future for not locking up children?

HILLIER: Well look, I’m doing quite a lot of work on this to try and find out from people where the barriers are that stop people going voluntarily and let’s be clear that if people are not able to stay in the country legally they do need to go.

Friday 19 March 2010

see also

Former children’s laureate Michael Morpurgo stands outside the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire to give his views on how child asylum seekers are treated in the UK.

Author Michael Murpogo debates the ideas in his film on what to do with the children of failed asylum seekers with journalists Polly Toynbee and Andrew Pierce.