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Child detention proposals debated in House of Lords could see over 8000 children detained per year

Child detention proposals debated in House of Lords could see over 8000 children detained per year

On 7 June the Illegal Migration Bill was debated during the Committee stage in the House of Lords. This saw Peers debating the reintroduction of child detention after it was ended over a decade ago after years of campaigning by Citizens UK which ended with a landmark commitment by the Government to end this practice.

Under the Bill, the Home Secretary would be able to detain babies and children anywhere and not just in so-called short-term holding facilities or specific family-designated pre-departure accommodation, as is currently the case.

Amendments to keep the existing limits on child detention have been tabled by the Conservative peer Baroness Mobarik, supported by the Conservative peers Lord Bourne and Baroness Helic as well as the Bishop of Durham and Bishop of Southwark. During the debate, the Bishop of Southwark called on the government to change course on the reintroduction of child detention.

The Bishop of Southwark attended the debate, calling on the government to change course on the reintroduction of child detention

The new proposed powers of the Bill explicitly ignore current statutory child detention time limits of 24 hours for unaccompanied children, and 72 hours for children in families –- or not more than seven days with ministerial approval. The current time limits were legislated in the Immigration Act 2014.

The latest data released by the Home Office devastatingly shows that in the year to March 2023, there were over 8,000 children entering the UK who under these proposed new detention powers would have been locked up indefinitely.

The proposed detention scheme for new arrivals contained in the Illegal Migration Bill will apply to both children arriving alone and those with their families, including babies.

If the Bill becomes law, the scheme will apply retrospectively to all children who arrive in the UK on or after 7 March 2023 without a visa and not directly from an unsafe country – regardless of whether that child or their family require protection as a refugee, their asylum claim will not be considered.

Citizens UK's campaign to end child detention stretches back over a decade

Nick Clegg with CUK Leaders after announcing the end of child detention in 2014
CUK Leaders held an action inside Parliament demanding an end to child detention

In 2009, Citizens UK began their campaign to end child detention for immigration purposes after many local families shared harrowing stories about their experiences with detention centers, where thousands of children every year were being detained in prison-like conditions. This campaign led to Citizens UK’s first-ever national win, and local leaders worked alongside the Home Office during this time to make sure the legislation was passed effectively. We put a stop to detention centers and the trauma they inflict on thousands of families and children, but we must continue to act together to ensure no child is ever locked up in prison-like conditions again

No child should ever go through detention. Imagine putting your child in prison for a week - how would that feel? No child should have their lives damaged by the physical and mental effects of being in such an environment. We must fight to end this despicable practice and provide kids a future free of trauma Ijeoma, Citizens UK leader

Routinely locking up thousands of babies and children will cause significant harm and reverses the progress made by a Conservative-led government over a decade ago. Despite government reassurances and a power to make regulations added to the Bill, there is still no constraint on detaining children on the face of the Illegal Migration Bill. The Prime Minister says an exemption would ‘give every incentive for people to bring children on with them’, but what fleeing family would abandon their young child en route? Anita Hurrell, Head of the Migrant Children Project at the children’s charity Coram

It is alarming the Government has not learnt the lessons of the past and is turning back the clock on protecting children. We know the long-lasting damage immigration detention inflicts on children. It hinders their development, leaves them withdrawn, emotionally distressed and traumatised, with some becoming suicidal or bearing post-traumatic stress disorder. How can reversing a commitment of a decade ago and returning to practices which we know inflict such harm be for the best for children? Marieke Widmann, Policy & Practice Adviser at The Children’s Society

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child previously welcomed the UK’s 2010 decision to end immigration detention of children. It is therefore extremely concerning that in its most recent report on the UK, published last week, it had to call on the Government to urgently amend the Illegal Migration Bill so that children cannot be detained for the purposes of immigration control.  Immigration detention causes immense harm to children and is a clear breach of their human rights. It’s imperative that the UK Government rethinks its plans in light of the UN Committee’s damning report and safeguards the rights of some of the most vulnerable children in society Louise King, Director of the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, part of Just for Kids Law

Citizens UK has a range of projects and campaigns calling for an end to the hostile environment for refugees and migrants in the UK. There are so many ways you can join our movement - from helping a refugee family resettle in their new home to lobbying the Government for equal and affordable access to Citizenship.

Read more about our different campaigns and find out how you can get involved.

Posted by Sophie Thomhave-Lee on 14 Jun, 2023