Foreword and introduction
As Children’s Commissioner I have a statutory duty to promote awareness of the views and interests of children, particularly regarding their physical and mental health and emotional wellbeing, their education, training and recreation and protecting them from harm and neglect.
Each year some two thousand children are detained for administrative purposes for immigration control, the majority being held in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire. I have visited this facility three times during the last four years because of my profound concern over the treatment and management of children in that location. My second visit in May 2008 led to a report, The Arrest and Detention of Children Subject to Immigration Control, published in May 2009. In my report I argued that the administrative detention of children for immigration control must end, but being pragmatic and recognising that the process was unlikely to end immediately, I called upon Government to ensure that detention genuinely occurs only as a last resort and for the shortest possible time following the application of a fair, transparent decision-making process.
The report contained detailed recommendations for the UK Border Agency (UKBA) – the authority responsible for enforcing the UK’s immigration laws – relating to many highly unsatisfactory aspects of the process of arrest, detention and enforced removal of children and their families. UKBA formally responded to the report in August 2009.
I visited the Immigration Removal Centre again in October 2009, to examine the impact of my report in generating change in resources and practice, and this new report documents my findings and conclusions. It has been published after providing the UKBA and SERCO, the contractors at Yarl’s Wood, with generous opportunity to examine and comment on the first draft. I am pleased to confirm that I have taken their comments seriously in preparing the final manuscript, and I thank UKBA for their ongoing co-operation and the thoughtful way in which they have responded to both this and the previous report.
My new report sets out the children’s perspective of their experiences following any changes arising from my previous report. In particular, we have focussed on the recommendations from that report and considered whether the arrangements now in place have addressed our concerns.
I also make recommendations from the standpoint of promoting the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The Convention underpins the work of my office and stands as the international standard for how we should treat children and young people in our society today. I am, of course, very pleased that the UK Government decided to remove it’s reservation on the UNCRC in 2008, and from my contact with children subject to immigration control I am convinced that the application of the UNCRC’s Articles is particularly important for these especially vulnerable children. This is an assertion that is supported by the Concluding Observations of the UN Committee after its formal Periodic Review of the UK Government’s performance on the realisation of children’s rights in 2008.
Overall, there is much to report that is positive. I acknowledge the positive and constructive relationship between me and my staff and UKBA and SERCO and appreciate the good intent on all sides that has resulted in the number of significant changes in policy and practice. I welcome all of these developments, many of which relate directly to the concerns raised in my previous report, and I draw particular attention to improvements in the physical environment and to the commitment to promoting the welfare of children as outlined in section 55 of the Borders, Citizenships and Immigration Act 2009 and subsequent guidance.
I also welcome UKBA’s stated commitment to seeking alternatives to the detention of families, and I await with interest the outcomes of the pilot initiative in Glasgow on Assisted Voluntary Return and the community-based holding facility.
While I fully acknowledge the Government’s right to determine who is allowed to stay in this country, my contention remains that detention is harmful to children and therefore never likely to be in their best interests. There is a growing body of evidence, not least from the medical Royal Colleges, that documents that detention has a profound and negative impact on children and young people. Therefore, while I welcome UKBA’s commitment to implementing and realising many of the recommendations of my last report, I will continue to urge that the detention of all children should cease. Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre is no place for a child.
I extend my thanks to SERCO and the staff at Yarl’s Wood for their co-operation and honesty. I know that removal from the UK will always be a difficult and distressing time for families and children, and I acknowledge the human challenges that staff face in performing their public duties. I have witnessed staff working in these challenging circumstances and respect that they do so with sensitivity and compassion. We are always made welcome when visiting Yarl’s Wood and very much appreciate this. Further thanks are due to Bedford Borough Council for their willingness to engage with us.
Finally, and most importantly, I wish to thank the children and parents who spoke with us so openly and who were prepared to share their records and the personal details of their lives with us. This report is dedicated to them.
Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green
Children’s Commissioner for England
Who are we?
11 MILLION is a national organisation led by the Children’s Commissioner for England, Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green.
The Children’s Commissioner is a position created by the Children Act 2004.
The Children Act 2004
The Children Act requires the Children’s Commissioner for England to be concerned with the five aspects of well-being covered in Every Child Matters – the national Government initiative aimed at improving outcomes for all children. It also requires us to have regard to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The UNCRC underpins our work and informs which areas and issues our efforts are focused on. Our vision Children and young people will actively be involved in shaping all decisions that affect their lives, are supported to achieve their full potential through the provision of appropriate services, and will live in homes and communities where their rights are respected and they are loved, safe and enjoy life. Our mission We will use our powers and independence to ensure that the views of children and young people are routinely asked for, listened to and that outcomes for children improve over time. We will do this in partnership with others, by bringing children and young people into the heart of the decision-making process to increase understanding of their best interests.
Our long-term goals
1. Children and young people see significant improvements in their wellbeing and can freely enjoy their rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
2. Children and young people are more highly valued by adult society. Spotlight areas
Asylum and immigration is one 11 MILLION’s policy ‘spotlight’ areas for 2010-2011. These are areas in which we will influence emerging policy and debate. For more information Visit our website for everything you need to know about 11 MILLION: www.11MILLION.org.uk
This report concerns the third visit of the Children’s Commissioner to Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre which took place in October 2009. It follows on from our visit in May 2008 and the subsequent report The Arrest and Detention of Children Subject to Immigration Control (2009).
The aim of this report is to examine the progress made in addressing the concerns raised regarding children’s experience of the immigration removal process and detention. In doing so we are mindful of our statutory duty to promote awareness of the views and interests of children in England and to have awareness of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Children Act 2004 also requires the Commissioner to have particular regard to groups of children who do not have other adequate means by which they can make their views known.
While we fully acknowledge the Government’s right to determine who is allowed to stay in this country, my contention remains that detention is harmful to children and therefore never likely to be in their best interests, and we continue to argue that the detention of children for immigration control should cease.