Babies and unaccompanied children detained for more than 10 hours at Heathrow Airport, finds report

More than a thousand children detained at airport in last year, inspectors warn

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, a new report shows.

The findings will fuel concerns about the treatment of foreign people held in detention in the UK before they are granted entry or sent home.

In its annual report on the short-term holding facilities at the airport, the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) reveals that 1,043 were detained in the year to December 2017, of whom 211 were unaccompanied minors.

It tells how in one case, two unaccompanied 15-year-old boys who were seeking political asylum spent more than 10 hours in the Terminal 4 holding room. They were eventually given temporary admission to social services and left in the middle of the night.

In another case, a woman with a three-year-old child spent 13 hours and 35 minutes in the Terminal 3 holding room before they were given temporary admission.

Separately, a woman with five young children aged between four and nine seeking political asylum spent eight hours in the Terminal 2 holding room.

The IMB said none of the holding rooms provide satisfactory overnight accommodation and they are all “unsuitable for the detention of children”.

It revealed some children stay in the detention facility overnight.

“Where children arrive unaccompanied, their detention for seven hours or more is not unusual and some stays are considerably longer,” the report said.

“Some will go to local social services accommodation, but may have to wait some time before accommodation can be found and somebody can come to collect them, which may lead to their being woken up in the middle of the night.”

Karen Doyle, an organiser at charity Movement for Justice, told The Independent: “While all eyes are on the inhuman separation and detention of children from parents at the US border, this is a timely reminder of the brutality of Britain’s own border and detention regime.

“No child should ever be detained, in reality there is no need for anyone to be subject to administrative detention. The government committed to ending child detention, that promise needs to be upheld.”

Inspectors repeated previous calls for the Home Office to provide dedicated residential accommodation for children at Heathrow, so there is no need for any child to have to remain in a holding room overnight.

Overall, nearly 2,000 people were detained for more than 12 hours in 2017 – 231 of them for over 24 hours.

The inspectors also found facilities for the detention of people with mental health problems were “totally inadequate”.

They said in one case, a man assessed as too disturbed to be admitted to the community spent more than four days in a holding room while immigration officers negotiated with mental health authorities to try to get somebody to take responsibility for him.

He eventually went to detention in an Immigration Removal Centre, an “extremely unsatisfactory outcome”, the report said.

IMB chair John Hutchings said: “Overall we have found many detention and escort staff to be caring and sympathetic to the detainees they have to manage, including vulnerable individuals and families.

“However, the holding rooms can never be a friendly environment, especially for those individuals who are waiting for long periods, are tired and anxious after their flights, and in some cases are fearful of what will happen to them if they are sent back to their own country.”

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