E-newsletter: Monitoring the end of detention for immigration purposes and the New Family Removals process
7 September 2011
By Adrian Matthews, Senior Policy Development Officer - Asylum
The UNCRC requires that detention of children should only be used as a measure of last resort, and for the shortest appropriate period of time (Article 37 (b)). One of the first announcements made by the current Government in May 2010 was that it intended to end the detention of children subject to immigration control.
The Office of the Children's Commissioner (OCC) warmly welcomed this decision, having consistently made the case for this over the past five years. Our reports, using our unique Children Act 2004 power of entry to the family unit at Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre, and our constructive contributions to Damian Green MP's review of the matter, have been acknowledged by the Home Secretary and the Deputy Prime Minister as influential in this dramatic change of policy.
Since the Government's historic announcement, significant work has been undertaken by the UK Border Agency and many partner organisations to redesign all arrangements, indeed the entire system, for dealing with the cases of families who are found to have no right to remain in the UK, aiming to do this work without resorting to detaining children.
The new family removals process will soon be fully operational with the opening of what has been called ‘pre-departure accommodation' (PDA) for families who have not taken up the option of assisted voluntary return or made their own arrangements to leave the UK. Families will be required to reside there under the detention powers contained in the Immigration Act 1971 and its schedules. In early August the Commissioner and I went on a pre-opening fact finding visit to Cedars, a completely refurbished former school near Crawley in Sussex. Its purpose will be to hold families for a maximum 72 hour stay immediately prior to removal, and only when all the other elements of a redesigned community-based system have been exhausted. In exceptional cases or where extreme complications arise, on Ministerial authority only, the stays may be extended to a week.
A significantly new approach to working with these people is seen in the involvement of the children's charity Barnardo's at every stage of the Cedars refurbishment, furnishing, design of children's environments.
Barnardos will provide families and children with all welfare services at the new accommodation. The OCC has publically welcomed Barnardos involvement because of their commitment to being child-centred and prioritising the welfare of the children who are detained.
Our visit included close and probing questioning of UKBA and Barnardo's staff on how Cedars will operate. We will now use what we learned to continue to monitor how the new arrangements are working. We will be visiting both Cedars and Tinsley House, also in Sussex, once it starts holding families. We have also shared our perceptions and advice on a rights-based approach to support the training of Barnardo's, G4S and UKBA staff. In disseminating the learning from families' and children's experiences at the former Yarl's Wood family unit, we continue to contribute to increased understanding of the challenges staff will face. This includes signalling where they may need to refer cases to external agencies and other professionals, a move which may require amendments to removal plans.
Our previous reports were critical of the lengthy periods for which families were detained at the now closed Yarl's Wood family unit. We will continue to monitor the commitment to end child detention in immigration cases, how the removal of families will change, and how the new arrangements work.
Whether families have been able to access adequate legal representation to assist them in making their asylum claims has become a matter of growing concern with the closure of the two largest charities providing legal advice and representation to asylum seekers. We will therefore also be monitoring these effects in practice, with a continued focus on the rights of the child.