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The Guardian: Child detention in immigration centres faces legal challenge

The Guardian, 26 October 2010, Alan Travis
 
A high court challenge to bring to an immediate end the detention of children in immigration removal centres was launched today.

The case is being brought on behalf of two single mothers and their children who were detained by UK Border Agency (UKBA) officers in dawn raids on their homes earlier this year.

Lawyers acting for Reetha Suppiah and Sakinat Bello say they have evidence that even short periods in detention are unlawful as they cause serious harm to children.

The case, which is expected to last three days, is being brought by Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), with the human rights group Liberty and the campaign group Bail for Immigration Detainees also intervening.

The Home Office said it was fighting the case as it remained committed to the removal of those found by the courts to have no right to remain in the UK.

"The ability to enforce removals when necessary is a key part of a sustainable immigration system," a Home Office spokesman said.

He added that the detention of families would be kept to a minimum while officials drew up an alternative arrangement that would protect the welfare of children without undermining immigration law. The immigration minister, Damian Green, recently assured refugee welfare groups that this work would be completed by the end of the year.

But both PIL and Liberty have accused the coalition government of stalling on its pledge immediately after the election in May that it would end the detention of children for immigration purposes.

Jill Duffy of PIL said that five months after the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, called it a moral outrage, children continued to be held in prison-like conditions.

Suppiah and her two sons, aged one and 11, were taken to Yarl's Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire in February and detained for 17 days. Bello was detained at Yarl's Wood for 12 days before being released back into the community. Upon arrival all the children became sick, suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting.

"It appears that the welfare needs of the families were not properly taken into account or even assessed prior to the decision to detain, and the detention experience has had a profound effect upon them," PIL said.

The latest published UKBA figures show that 110 children were detained between April and June this year. Five children were being held in removal centres on 30 June. But more than 1,085 children were detained during the course of 2009. One child was held for 158 days but the average period was two weeks.

Liberty's legal officer, Emma Norton, said: "This has gone on too long and we look to the courts to put an end to it this week. Prison is no place for a child and defending such an unsavoury position is no place for the new government."


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