More than 1,300 children were held at UK immigration removal centres during a 15-month period, the government says.
The figures were revealed in a letter from Immigration Minister Phil Woolas to Pete Wishart MP, the Scottish National Party home affairs spokesman.
The letter also revealed that 889 children from 488 families had been detained for more than 28 days between April 2004 and September 2009.
Mr Wishart said detaining children in adult centres was “simply wrong”.
The letter also said the figures were not subject to the “detailed checks” that usually apply to official statistics, and added that individual children may have been counted more than once, as they could have been transferred from one centre to another.
According to the government’s figures:
There were 884 children held at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire between July 2008 and July 2009
Tinsley House, near Gatwick Airport, held 328 children between 1 September 2008 and 31 August 2009
One hundred and three children were held at the Dungavel centre in South Lanarkshire between October 2008 and 18 September 2009.
Mr Wishart said: “Whatever the position of the parents, children should not be detained behind barbed wire.
Children’s welfare is not well served by the UK’s actions and regardless of their parents immigration status children should not have to pay this price
Pete Wishart, SNP MP
“That 103 children have been held in Scotland, where the Scottish government is firmly against child detention, is deeply disturbing. It’s time for the UK government to end this practice.
“These figures show nearly 200 children a year are being held for more than four weeks.
“Regardless of what provision is made for children in these centres, that they are being held behind bars is unacceptable.
“I will be pursuing this issue with the UK government. Children’s welfare is not well served by the UK’s actions and regardless of their parents’ immigration status children should not have to pay this price.”
‘Duty of care’
He accused the government of “detaining the equivalent of a high school every year across the UK”.
Mr Wishart also claimed it was the first time statistics on the number of children held in such centres had been released.
Mr Woolas said in his letter that “the welfare of children is an issue which I take very seriously”.
He added: “The UK Border Agency is introducing the duty of care to children through the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill.
“In addition a programme to improve statistics on people held in detention is under way. This will result in more statistics published, subject to data quality, in 2009. The programme of work will give a particular focus to detained children.”
BBC News – Sunday 1 November 2009