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Last Updated: Thursday April 09 2009 17:33 GMT

Kids locked up trying to stay in UK

A graphic

Sonali's report on what happens to asylum seekers

Every year, thousands of families run away from danger in their own country, and come to the UK in search of a safer life.

But if they're not given permission to stay, hundreds of children get sent to special detention centres before being forced to go home.

Sonali's been finding out more about the kids who get locked up in their battle to stay in Britain.

Every year, more than 7,000 children a year arrive in the UK in search of a better life.

They usually come here after running away from danger in their own country, like war.

Some of the kids arrive with their families - but others are completely on their own.

Before people are allowed to stay here in Britain permanently, they have ask for permission from the government by becoming an asylum seeker.

Press Pack
Sonali and Meltem

The word asylum means safety. An asylum seeker is interviewed by the government, who then has to decide whether they can become a refugee and stay in the UK for good.

A reply from the government can take months or even years. If they decide the asylum seeker can't stay, they sometimes get taken into a detention centre, where they're kept until they can be forced on a plane back home.

Fair rules

It's thought around 2,000 kids a year end up getting locked up like this - sometimes for months.

That's what happened to 15-year-old Meltem. She and her family ran away from Turkey when she was just six.

Lyn Homer

UK Border agency chief Lyn Homer

When we asked the Chief Executive of the UK Border Agency, Lyn Homer, why this happens, she told us sometimes, they have no choice.

''Every now and again, a family will say they don't like our rules. If we ask them to go home and they won't, we hold them in one of our buildings until we've organised their plane back home.

"We think this is important because unless we apply the rules fairly to everybody, then we couldn't cope with being a home to every family in the world that wanted to make the UK their base.''

Caroline Slocock chatting with Sonali

Boss of Refugee and Migrant Justice Caroline Slocock

But the organisation that helps kids fight to stay in the UK, Refugee and Migrant Justice, reckons the government doesn't handle child asylum seekers in the right way.

Their chief executive, Caroline Slocock told us: ''The government needs to stop locking up children, but if it feels it has to, it should make sure it treats children like children and not make them feel like criminals and not make the detention centre feel like prison and make sure they can carry on with their schooling.''

The government insists putting people in detention centres is always a last resort and if they do, the centres are child-friendly, with things like games and TVs, and there is education available in them.