Britain ends 'shameful' detention of asylum seeker children

16th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

The British government said Thursday it would end the "shameful" practice of holding the children of failed asylum-seekers in detention centres while they await deportation.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the family wing at Yarl's Wood removal centre outside London, the main site for holding women and children, would close immediately and the practice would end completely by May.

Children's campaign group Barnardo's welcomed the announcement, which it said signalled a "good day for the UK's reputation as a nation".

Clegg said the decision, the fulfillment of an election pledge by his Liberal Democrats party, which shares power in Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative-led coalition, marked a "big culture shift" in immigration.

It "puts our values -- the protection of children -- above paranoia over our borders", he said.

"We are ending the shameful practice that last year alone saw over 1,000 children -- 1,000 innocent children -- imprisoned. The practice that, under (the former government run by) Labour, saw children literally taken from their homes, without warning, and placed behind bars."

Under the new plans, families who have failed in their application to remain in Britain will be managed by an independent panel of experts, and will be given help to plan their return home.

As a last resort, if they refuse help and refuse to go home, they could spend up to 72 hours in independently-run, "pre-departure accommodation". But the children will be able to leave the premises, unlike under current rules.

Martin Narey, chief executive of Barnardo's, welcomed the move as "a good day for the desperate and wretched families who will no longer have to suffer the trauma" of immigration detention centres, and a good day for Britain.

"The end of child detention at Yarl's Wood is a hugely significant event," he said.

"Incarcerating them simply because they have parents who wish to live here was unnecessary, expensive and more to the point, just plain wrong."

He said the last resort solution was a "small and necessary price to pay".

© 2010 AFP

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