Immigrant children still being detained, figures show

"Detention can seriously harm their mental and physical health"

More than 600 children, the majority under 12 years old, have been put in detention under immigration rules in the four years since the Government claimed to have ended the controversial practice.

A new analysis of Home Office statistics by The Independent also reveals that the number of children being held increased from 127 in 2011 to 228 in 2013 – an 80 per cent rise. This is despite Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg stating in December 2010: “We are ending the shameful practice that last year alone saw over 1,000 children – 1,000 innocent children – imprisoned.”

At the time he promised child detention would be stopped except as an “absolutely last resort, involving what we predict will be a tiny number of cases... immediately prior to [the children] leaving the country.”

But since he made that pledge, official figures indicate that 661 under-18s – most of them from families seeking asylum – have been detained.

Around half end up being allowed to stay in Britain rather than being deported. In some cases children have remained in detention for weeks before being released.

Simon Parker, of the End Child Detention Now campaign group, said: “Although the numbers of children being detained are considerably lower than under the previous government, what Nick Clegg called ‘state-sponsored cruelty’ is still happening to hundreds of vulnerable children. It is time that we ended this unnecessary and harmful practice once and for all.”


The plight of children in detention is part of a wider picture, with tens of thousands of people detained each year under immigration powers – despite not being charged with any criminal offence. The Independent revealed this week that 20 people have been held for at least two years in what campaigners have dubbed the “black hole at the heart of British justice”.

Wetting the bed, refusing to eat and having suicidal thoughts are among the signs of distress shown by children in detention, say campaigners.  Many children are detained at “pre-departure accommodation” at Cedars, near Gatwick, which opened in 2011 and is the only detention centre in Britain designed for families with children.

But pre-departure accommodation centres “are ‘merely ‘detention by another name’,” said Theresa Schleicher, of the Medical Justice charity: “In 2013, HM Inspectorate of Prisons raised concerns about the level of distress of families passing through Cedars and we are concerned about the ongoing negative physical and emotional impact of such detention on children.”

Matthew Reed, the chief executive of The Children’s Society, said: “Detention can seriously harm their mental and physical health, even if they are held for a short time. Many have already been traumatised by such experiences as persecution or trafficking.” 

However, a Home Office spokesman said: “We have always been clear that there are certain situations where we may be forced to detain families temporarily. These may include border turnaround cases, or cases involving unaccompanied children, until alternative accommodation is arranged.”

Tahir Mehmood died six days after being transferred to an immigration removal centre


Detainee ‘sought help twice before he died’

A seriously ill detainee twice sought medical help for chest pains before he was seen by a nurse at a privately run immigration removal centre at Manchester airport where he died soon after, an inquest has heard.

Tahir Mehmood, 43, who had overstayed his work visa, was due to be deported to Pakistan in July 2013, where his wife and children lived.

He had been detained in Manchester before he was transferred to an immigration removal centre, run by Tascor, where he died six days later.

An inquest heard he twice asked for a nurse on 26 July 2013 while suffering chest pains. The inquest continues.