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Home Office attempts to deport families ‘harmful’ to children and ‘often ineffective’, watchdog warns

Campaigners say detaining families with no likely chance of removing them feeds into hostile environment and amounts to 'brutal and unnecessary' tactic to drive down immigration

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 30 August 2018 08:54 BST
Inspectors observed children being woken early in the morning by arrest teams and escorted on long journeys before being detained with their “often very distressed” parents
Inspectors observed children being woken early in the morning by arrest teams and escorted on long journeys before being detained with their “often very distressed” parents (PA)

Attempts by the Home Office to deport families by detaining them in dawn raids are harmful to children – as well as being largely ineffective, the prisons watchdog has warned.

The chief inspector of prisons said he was “troubled” by a recent inspection into the practice, which observed children being woken early in the morning by arrest teams and escorted on long journeys before being detained with their “often very distressed” parents.

Some were forced to go through the “traumatic process” of witnessing parents being restrained, contributing to the “considerable human impact” the removal process had on children, inspectors found.

The report by the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, which looked at the care of families held at immigration facilities near Gatwick, found that as well as being harmful for children, detaining families was “costly” and “often ineffective”, with 80 per cent of detainees released back into the community within three days.

Campaigners said the practice of detaining families with no likely chance of removing them fed into Theresa May’s hostile environment, and amounted to a “brutal and unnecessary” tactic with the aim of trying to drive down immigration.

The report looked at two new family detention facilities which opened at Tinsley House in June 2017, replacing the Cedars pre departure accommodation which had been used for families arrested at the border and who needed overnight accommodation before a return flight.

In the 11 months since the new facility opened, 19 families have been detained in the pre departure accommodation, with only four of them eventually removed.

Inspectors observed the arrest of two families, both of which involved more than eight people in uniforms and wearing stab vests and heavy boots, entering a family’s home early in the morning.

During the first arrest – of a father, mother, eight-year old boy, five-year old girl and 15-month old baby boy – staff were unsuccessful in efforts to find an interpreter and used telephone interpretation instead, which made communication difficult.

The parents were arrested and asked to get themselves and their children dressed while a large number of officers were in the flat, with one telling them: “We can do this the easy way or the hard way.”

The family members were promised they would be able to speak to a legal representative when they arrived at the local immigration enforcement office only to be denied the opportunity.

The family endured an 11 hour coach journey which ended at 9.55pm, after being arrested at 7.15am. They were ultimately released back into the community.

The second family consisted of a mother, father and two children – a boy aged 13 and a girl aged eight – and the detention was particularly traumatic because restraint was used on the father and, briefly, his eldest child. They too were ultimately not deported.

Inspectors found, despite the arrests being a distressing and high risk process, where force was often used, Home Office immigration enforcement teams did not routinely use body worn video cameras to safeguard staff and detainees.

Responding to the findings, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott told The Independent: “This feeds into Theresa May’s hostile environment. No child should be detained, and the traumatic nature of these detention tactics are brutal and unnecessary.

“Britain’s current immigration detention system is inhumane, costly and not fit for purpose. The government needs to end the current, disastrous immigration detention system, and ... end the failed ‘hostile environment’ approach.”

Celia Clarke, director of Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID), said the charity agreed with the inspector’s observations, adding: ”The distress and trauma inflicted on families subjected to these processes cannot ever be justified in the name of immigration control.

“The enduring harm inflicted on children during these attempted removals can never be undone. The forced detention and removal of families, which rarely achieves its stated purpose, must stop.”

The latest study came after a report by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) that found more than a thousand children were detained at Heathrow airport last year, including babies and unaccompanied minors who spent more than 10 hours in holding rooms.

The Home Office promotes “voluntary return” and offered families assistance to help them avoid detention. Since April 2016, more than 1,300 families have been returned, having not been detained.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Detention is an important part of the immigration system – but it must be fair, dignified and protect the most vulnerable.

“This report makes many positive findings, including the good relationship between staff and detainees, however it rightly points out areas where we can do better, and we are committed to improving.

“Last month the home secretary announced a series of reforms to immigration detention in response to Stephen Shaw’s follow-up review of the welfare in detention of vulnerable people.

“These included doing more work with partners to develop further alternatives to detention, improving support for the most vulnerable, the introduction of a new drive on dignity, and a commitment to be more transparent.”

Sarah Newland, the head of Tinsley House immigration removal centre, pre-departure accommodation and borders, said: “The report shows that while we do have improvements to make ... we can be proud of the work that we are doing to ensure that the detainees at Tinsley House are well cared for and supported, prior to their resettlement.”

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