Asylum centre 'harmful to children'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Children being held at a detention centre for asylum- seekers are suffering distress and are failing to thrive, the prisons watchdog said today.

Children being held at a detention centre for asylum- seekers are suffering distress and are failing to thrive, the prisons watchdog said today.

Some youngsters are confined at the Oakington Immigration Reception Centre in Cambridgeshire for weeks, often without proper social services assessments, education provision or any physical activity, the inspector's report found.

Procedures for the detention of young people are not being followed and untrained staff are struggling to cope with the numbers of troubled children who are "failing to thrive" as a result of their incarceration.

The report by Anne Owers, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, warned that the centre would face an even more difficult time over the next 18 months as it is to close in 2006.

Ms Owers said: "It remains our view that the detention of children should be exceptional, and only for very short periods.

"We found evidence of the disruption caused by detention. Agreed procedures for the detention of children appeared not to have been followed.

"There was no independent social service assessment of children staying longer than a few days, though files showed that some children were suffering distress."

One boy had been detained immediately before he was due to begin sitting his GCSEs, while another had been held for 21 weeks, despite guidelines that state children should only be at the centre for a few days.

The £4.5m centre was originally used as a fast-track institution for processing the claims of asylum-seekers and releasing them into the community within days or weeks. But it is now also holding people who, if their claims are rejected, are detained and deported.

Ms Owers and her team said it had led to an increase in the numbers of people at risk of self-harm, as well as extending the length adults and children were kept in the centre. At the time of the inspection, 41 children under the age of 18 were held with their parents in the family unit of the centre. Of these, 15 had been at Oakington for between one and four weeks.

The families are held in a block where they are locked in their rooms from midnight to 7am. There is a small outside area but the centre is surrounded by fencing and the buildings are described as "institutional and dreary".

The Immigration minister, Des Browne, said: "Detaining children is a sensitive matter. We believe the mechanisms for detaining children and reviewing their detention at Oakington are dealt with sensitively and with priority."

Comments