Page last updated at 10:11 GMT, Tuesday, 13 October 2009 11:11 UK

Asylum children health concerns

One of the experts who interviewed the children was Dr Kim Ehntholt

A study of the children of asylum seekers at a centre in Bedfordshire has found detaining them can cause depression and anxiety.

It found evidence that holding youngsters with their parents caused mental and physical health problems.

Medical experts looked at children in Yarl's Wood immigration removal centre.

The journal, Child Abuse and Neglect, wants a review of government policy. The UK Border Agency said the "limited" research was more than three years old.

Researchers in the study said measures should be taken to stop more children suffering "severe" levels of stress.

'Well-intentioned staff'

Eleven were seen by a clinical psychologist and found to be "confused and frightened", the report revealed. Of those, eight had developed severe emotional and behavioural problems.

More than half the children, who were aged between three and 11, reported sleep problems, headaches and stomach pain. Some had started wetting the bed.

The authors also expressed concerns about the amount of time some children were kept away from their parents.

As doctors, we ask for safeguards to protect these vulnerable children from further harm in detention
Dr Anne Lorek, co-author

In one case, a 20-month-old baby was taken away from her mother for a three-week period, the report found.

Co-author Dr Ann Lorek, consultant paediatrician at the Mary Sheridan Centre for Child Health in Lambeth, said: "Our study contains evidence that children in detention have worsening physical and mental health, and express worrying levels of trauma and sickness, despite well-intentioned staff.

"They are locked up with family members for indefinite periods of time, often on several occasions.

"As doctors, we ask for safeguards to protect these vulnerable children from further harm in detention."

David Wood from the UK Border Agency said the report was 'disappointing'

Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council, described the stories contained within the report as "harrowing".

She said the Government must act to end the detention of children "immediately".

The Home Office estimates that around 40 children are in immigration custody at any one time.

David Wood, strategic director of the criminality and detention group of the UK Border Agency, said the "limited" research was more than three years old.

"Yarl's Wood has been praised on numerous occasions for its children's facilities - Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons recently said we had made 'significant progress', and we now have full-time independent social workers, and a range of trained experts to monitor welfare 24 hours a day."

Following a visit to Yarl's Wood in April, Children's Commissioner Sir Al Aynsley-Green called for an end to the detention of children before deportation.

He said nearly 2,000 children were locked up in the UK each year solely for administrative reasons, and that the length of time they were being held was on the increase.

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