Church speaks out on child refugees

Senior church leaders from across Europe will call on David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, to end the Government's draconian policy of locking up asylum-seekers' children in detention centres.

The demand follows fierce criticism over the treatment of a Kurdish family of four children and their mother held for more than a year at detention centres including Dungavel, a former prison in Strathaven, Lanarkshire.

The Independent on Sunday highlighted the plight of 14-year-old Beriwan Ay, her two sisters, Newroz and Medya, brother, Dilowan, and mother, Yurdugal, deported this month to Germany despite appeals for them to stay in Britain.

In October, religious representatives from the EU will meet in Brussels, where the Right Rev John Mone, the Bishop of Paisley, who campaigned for the Ay family's release, will condemn the Government for breaching European laws on children's rights. Bishop Mone said the concern over the youngsters was "about giving them back their childhood". He added: "The Home Office has a paranoid fear that these families will abscond."

Britain is the only country in Europe to deprive children of their freedom by holding them in detention centres.

Last week, Anne Owers, the chief inspector of prisons, advised the Government to stop detaining the children of asylum-seekers long-term. Her comments came in an inspection report on Dungavel.

The Home Office said the extended detention of the Ay family was exceptional. But figures published by this newspaper show that in dozens of cases children as young as five have been detained for longer than a month. An education inspectors' report on Dungavel showed nearly a quarter of the child detainees were held there for more than six weeks.

Simon Hughes MP, the Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokesman, said the Government seemed to have forgotten a "basic British principle" that children who have committed no offence should not be locked up.

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