In a highly critical report into the work of the now-abolished UK Border Agency (UKBA), the Home Affairs Committee found that 61 children were detained for immigration purposes during the last quarter of 2012, up from 48 during the previous quarter.
MPs did note that the majority of those detained were for short periods of time – during the third quarter of 2012, 59 children left immigration. Of these, 92 per cent had been held for three days or fewer compared to 87 per cent the previous quarter.
These latest figures come three years after Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg pledged to end child detention for immigration purposes and labelled it a “shameful practice”.
A recent CYP Now investigation showed that since May 2011, when a new case management system aimed at ending child detention was introduced, the use of child detention has risen.
Figures supplied by the Home Office show that in 2011/12 there were 139 children detained but for 2012/13 this had risen to 202.
Before this system was introduced, child detention had in fact dropped, with just nine children detained between November 2010 and February 2011.
Kamena Dorling, policy and programmes manager at Coram Children’s Legal Centre, described the rise in detention of children for immigration reasons as “hugely concerning”.
She added: “There is a lot of evidence to show that a period of detention can be very damaging to a child’s emotional wellbeing. The length of time they are being detained has been brought down but that does not solve the problem that they are still being detained at all.”
Coram is also concerned that a proportion of children travelling on their own are being wrongly classified as adults, allowing them to be detained for months at a time. Home Office figures show there were officially 13 children detained as adults in 2012, but Coram estimates the figure to be far higher.
Lisa Doyle, advocacy and influencing manager at the Refugee Council said: “We believe that children should not be detained as part of the asylum process, and the government has acknowledged that it can cause harm to children, which is why they pledged to end this practice. The government should fulfill its promise.”
The Home Affairs Committee report was also critical of the large backlog of pemanent and temporary immigration cases, which have mounted up to more than half a million.
The UKBA was abolished in April with its functions split into a visa and immigration service and an immigration law enforcement division, both within the Home Office.