Page last updated at 01:34 GMT, Thursday, 10 December 2009

Detention of child migrants 'risks their health'

Prof Steve Field: "You could pay and keep them in a hotel - it's cheaper"

The practice of placing children in immigration removal centres should stop "without delay" because it can damage their health, senior doctors have said.

Each year the UK holds about 1,000 children in immigration removal centres for an average of 15 days.

Several royal colleges say detaining children and their families in these centres causes "significant harm".

The government said treating children with "care and compassion" was a priority for the UK Border Agency.

The report was published by several royal colleges, including the colleges of paediatrics and child health, general practitioners and psychiatrists and nursing, and the UK Faculty of Public Health.

'Inadequate healthcare'

Many of the children are held at Serco-run Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire while their parents await deportation.

Yarl's Wood
Yarl's Wood detention centre is used to hold families

Children in such circumstances were already among the most vulnerable in the UK and the harmful effects of arrest and detention only added to their difficulties, the report said.

It said almost all children seeking asylum suffered injury to their mental or physical health due to being detained, some seriously.

The current provision of mental and preventative healthcare was inadequate, the report said, and made recommendations for improvement.

It said the commissioning of healthcare in the removal centres should be transferred from the Home Office to the NHS.

And it should ensure detained children are subject to the same safeguards and standards as elsewhere in the NHS.

The report also said they should be referred to local authorities as children in risk of harm.

Detaining children for any length of time is a terrifying experience that can have lifelong consequences
Professor Steve Field
Royal College of GPs

It added that children with identified mental health problems, or deemed to be at high risk of developing them, should not be placed in detention.

Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said children in immigrant families were already disadvantaged and vulnerable.

"Detaining children for any length of time - often without proper explanation - is a terrifying experience that can have lifelong consequences," he said.

"As well as the potential psychological impact, these children invariably experience poor physical health as they cannot access immunisation and preventative services."

Human rights

Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, said the issue went "straight to the very heart of social justice and human rights".

He said: "It is unfair and wrong to exclude these very vulnerable children and young people from equitable access to normal health and social care.

"The UK is a civilised nation - let's demonstrate that by ending this discrimination right now."

The policy statement was "warmly welcomed" by the Children's Commissioner for England, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, who in April said the practice of holding children in detention should be stopped.

Last month, the home affairs select committee said it was "not acceptable" that some were being detained for up to two months.

Lisa Nandy, policy adviser at the Children's Society, said: "We have seen first hand the damage that immigration detention causes - many of the children we work with experience depression, bed-wetting, weight-loss and even self-harm."

David Wood, head of criminality and detention for the UK Border Agency, said: "We agree with the Royal Colleges that families at Yarl's Wood should get the same level of care available on the NHS, and they do.

"The Royal Colleges have relied on research which is up to three-years-old. There have been significant changes since.

"Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre has been praised on numerous occasions for its children's facilities."

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