Hundreds of children seeking sanctuary in Britain have been held in detention despite repeated government claims that the practice has ended.
New statistics released by the Home Office reveal that more than 444 immigrant children have been detained since the end of 2010, when the Government announced its commitment to ending their detention in removal centres.
The number children being detained nearly doubled between 2011, when there were 127 cases, and 2012, when there were 242, according to the latest figures. This comes despite David Cameron boasting earlier this year that the coalition government had ended child detention.
The scale at which children are still being detained – most in immigration removal centres designed for adults – provoked a furious response from child protection experts last night.
Detention can "seriously harm" the mental and physical health of children, warned Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children's Society.
Maggie Atkinson, Children's Commissioner for England, said: "These figures suggest the needless detention of children within the immigration system continues, despite the Government's commitment to end it."
A Home Office spokesperson insisted the Government had met its commitment to end child detention by ensuring the "welfare of the child is at the heart of the decision and removals process". Labour's immigration spokesman, Chris Bryant, called on the Government to end the practice "or at least own up that it has made no progress on ending child detention".