Charity to sue Blunkett over refugee children

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The Independent Online

Save the Children is planning a legal challenge against the Government for barring children of asylum-seekers locked in detention centres from attending mainstream schools.

The children's charity is accusing David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, of denying children the intellectual, social and cultural benefits of being schooled in the community by tutoring them in immigration centres.

It has already consulted lawyers about bringing a case through the courts concerning the education of children held in Dungavel detention centre in Scotland.

Last week, The Independent on Sunday highlighted the plight of four Kurdish children who have spent nearly 10 months at the former prison.

Beriwan Ay, her two sisters, brother and mother are understood to have been held longer than any other asylum-seekers in an immigration centre.

Last week, the Court of Appeal was scheduled to hear the case of the Ay family, who fled Turkey nearly 15 years ago, but it was postponed because of a lack of court time. No new date has been set.

It is thought that more than 50 children are locked up by the immigration service at any one time, including children detained with their families and unaccompanied minors, at Dungavel, at Oakington, a fast-track removal centre in Cambridgeshire, and at Harmondsworth near Heathrow.

The Refugee Children's Consortium, which includes Save the Children, is demanding that Mr Blunkett, ends detention for the children of asylum-seekers, who, it says, are treated like criminals. There is no legal limit for the amount of time that the immigration service can hold children.

In October 2001 the Government tightened immigration laws to allow the detention of families with children, whom it views as presenting an absconding risk, under the same rules as other asylum-seekers.

The Home Office said the average length of stay for children in detention centres was five days, but this newspaper has details of cases where children have been held for 270 days, 161 days, 111 days, 87 days and 81 days.

Asylum charities found last year that 31 per cent of families at Harmondsworth were detained for two to four months, and 7 per cent for longer. Only one-third of families were awaiting removal.