“an immigration removal centre can never be a suitable place for children”

Anne Owers, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons.

Two recent reports on full announced inspections of two privately run detention prisons provide extremely damning evidence of the treatment of asylum applicants incarcerated within them. The report on Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre and report on Tinsley House Immigration Removal Centre were both carried out by Anne Owers, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons. These are the places where single women and families – men, women and children – are locked up, often for extended periods of time, despite having never committed any crime, apart from coming to the UK in search of a better life. Both reports focused particularly on the effects that such imprisonment has on children.

Some key findings from the report on Yarl’s Wood

  • Escort vehicles with caged compartments were inappropriately used to transport children
  • the average length of children’s detention had increased and this had a detrimental effect on children and their families
  • overall provision of health services was a concern
  • Children staying for more than a few days received an unsatisfactory educational experience and there were few activities outside school hours
  • There was no evidence that children’s individual needs were systematically taken into account when decisions to detain were made. Our interviews with detained children illustrated the effect of sudden arrest and detention on their well being and reflected how scared they were while held in detention
  • The standard of care delivery was reasonable for basic primary care, but some serious gaps in provision, including poor access and communication, impacted negatively on detainee wellbeing
  • Services for children were under-developed

Some key findings from the report about Tinsley House:

  • Our principal concerns about safety related to children. While staff in the family centre made considerable efforts to support children and their families, they could do little to mitigate the damaging effects of their detention
  • We were disturbed to observe some unprofessional conduct by external escort staff
  • We were particularly troubled by the plight of single women …the conditions for single women were extremely poor …Their situation should be addressed as a matter of urgency
  • there were examples of detainees given tranquilisers inappropriately without their consent
  • Prolonged detention was not adequately explained or reviewed. When detainees made bail applications for independent review of detention by a court, BIA disclosure was sometimes prejudicially late and inaccurate
  • there had been no progress on substantive areas of care since inspectorate recommendations as far back as 2002

Both these reports highlight the terrible conditions and human rights violations that asylum applicants must endure within detention centres, and as the final quote from the Tinsley House report highlights, nothing much has improved since the last inspection. The idea that such places could ever be made happier, more caring, or humane is pure fantasy. You know what we think. Close all detention prisons!

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