More immigrant children being locked up

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The Independent Online

The number of children being held in immigration detention centres has risen six-fold in under a year, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

The number of children being held in immigration detention centres has risen six-fold in under a year, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

A random snapshot survey showed 60 youngsters held in one 24-hour period in June. When the headcount was first carried out in December 2003, there were 10 children locked up.

On average, children are detained for less than two weeks but 10 were being held longer than this - above the maximum period recommended by the Inspectorate of Prisons. In five cases, children were detained for between one and two months.

Beverley Hughes, the former immigration minister, had promised that children held for more than 21 days would be given a welfare assessment but it now emerges that that pledge has not been honoured.

The chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers, called last August for an end to the long-term detention of children at Dungavel in Scotland, saying they should be detained as an "exceptional measure" only, and then for no more than a few days. As a result, children have now been withdrawn from Dungavel.

However, hundreds of children, including babies and toddlers, still pass through places such as Tinsley House near Gatwick and Oakington centre, Cambridgeshire.

Ministers have repeatedly refused to release precise monthly statistics on child detention levels, despite pressure from MPs and children's charities, arguing that figures are not accurate. Estimates suggest that as many as 400 children annually are locked up in detention centres.

An African mother of two children, aged 11 and 13, who were locked up for 42 days earlier this year in Oakington detention centre, says the boys have suffered psychological damage as a result.

The woman, who does not want to be identified, said: "I was told to bring the children along to the Home Office building for fingerprinting. The next thing we knew we were taken to Oakington. The children did not know what was going on. They were frightened they were going to be sent back home. They were crying a lot and I had to try and tell them everything would be OK." The woman, who now lives in Birmingham, said that her sons were put in lessons with children aged between five and 18.

"To take the children to detention they make children hate British people," she said. "It's very dangerous for boys that age to feel like that."

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