Page last updated at 04:28 GMT, Friday, 18 December 2009

Immigration removal centre 'unacceptable' says watchdog

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News

A member of staff makes her way through the security doors
Tinsley House: Accused of being prison-like

Conditions at an immigration removal centre used for women and children have worsened and are "wholly unacceptable", the prisons watchdog says.

Chief Prisons Inspector Dame Anne Owers said Tinsley House, near Gatwick Airport, was prison-like, with parents worried about their children's safety.

She said children had been subjected to "unnecessary force".

A spokesman for the UK Border Agency said treating women and children with care and compassion was a priority.

Dame Anne said the 120-bed removal centre at the airport had effectively become a satellite of the far larger Brook House, opened earlier this year. Private security firm G4S runs both centres for the Home Office's UK Border Agency (UKBA).

Her team made a surprise inspection in July following earlier concerns.

We accept the conditions at Tinsley House at the time of the inspection were not ideal but we do not agree that they are wholly unacceptable for women and children
David Wood, UKBA

"When we last visited, we expressed serious concerns at the plight of the small number of children and women held in this largely male establishment.

"On our return, conditions had generally deteriorated and the arrangements for children and single women were now wholly unacceptable."

Dame Anne said there was now a "prison-like culture" at the facility and some women felt so intimidated they rarely left their rooms. Children had limited access to fresh air and the range of activities had declined.

"Overall, this is a deeply depressing report," she said. "In particular, the arrangements for children and single women were now wholly unacceptable and required urgent action by G4S and UKBA.

"It is also disappointing that the opening of the neighbouring Brook House had not led to a more thoughtful and rational approach to the use of Tinsley House.

"Instead, Tinsley House has become almost an afterthought, housing some poorly cared for children and a small number of scared and isolated single women.

"This is more than a missed opportunity; it is a wholly unacceptable state of affairs."

'Unacceptable delays'

Approximately 1,000 children are removed each year from the UK and Dame Anne has frequently criticised their detention.

Mark Easton
It appears that the British government is struggling to keep the promises it has repeatedly made to children detained by the immigration authorities
Mark Easton, UK home editor

In November, the Home Affairs Select Committee said that it was unacceptable that some children removed each year were held in removal centres for up to two months.

David Wood, head of criminality and detention at the UKBA, said: "We accept the conditions at Tinsley House at the time of the inspection were not ideal, but we do not agree that they are wholly unacceptable for women and children.

"However, we are nonetheless reviewing our services. Treating women and children with care and compassion is a priority for the UK Border Agency.

The system must be cleaned up so that those who have been refused settlement in the UK are deported as soon as possible and only detained as a last resort
Keith Vaz, Home Affairs Select Committee

"Removal centres are a necessary part of enforcing immigration control.

"It is vital that they are well-run, safe and secure. Detainees are cared for with respect, with access to a range of medical, educational and welfare facilities."

But Amanda Shah of pressure group Bail for Immigration Detainees said: "We have seen for ourselves the damaging effect that detention at Tinsley has had on families we have supported.

"This report requires an urgent response from the government to ensure that no other children are held in such an unsuitable environment."

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