A report by the Independent Family Returns Panel found that between April 2012 and March 2014, 242 out of the 649 families with children that were identified as illegal immigrants and set to be returned to their home country were not pursued for deportation by the Home Office.
Charity Bail for Immigration Detainees said the figures indicated that the Home Office had initiated enforcement action against many families “unnecessarily”.
The panel, which advises the Home Office on the immigration detention of children and forcible removal of families from the UK, said the figure “calls into question the quality of initial decision making in placing a family in the returns process”.
“Another explanation may be that the families involved do not exhaust all their legal options until faced with the real and imminent prospect of enforced return which comes with entering the family returns process,” the report adds.
It said the issue would be examined further during the next reporting period.
The report also found that three quarters of the 407 families deported over the two-year period did so without the need for force being used, a significant improvement from the previous year. However, it said there is a need for a new policy on when immigration staff can use force against children and young people.
Since being rewritten in 2013 following a judicial review, Home Office guidance limits the use of force against a child or young person to situations where they risk harming themselves, others or property. The restriction means returns can, occasionally, be delayed due to staff not being able to enforce orders with physical intervention, the report says.
It adds: “It is not the decision of the panel to approve the use of physical intervention strategies during the return of a family. However, once a decision is taken to remove a family there are strong arguments for ensuring that the return happens sooner rather than later, given the sometimes traumatic nature of the event and the emotional impact on children of having to experience a number of return attempts.”
The panel also called on Barnardo’s – which provides support to families held at the Cedars immigration detention centre in Crawley – to review its policy that no more than 10 per cent of families returned each year are accommodated at Cedars.
“The panel has always considered this condition to be somewhat arbitrary and unrelated to children’s best interests,” it adds.
Sarah Campbell, research and policy manager at Bail for Immigration Detainees, said: “We find it extraordinary that the panel is recommending that more children should be detained given the overwhelming evidence of the harm suffered by detained children.
“We are appalled that the panel is encouraging the Home Office to use physical force against children to facilitate their removal from the UK."