Children being held for unacceptably long periods in ‘unsuitable’ conditions at Heathrow

Children are being held in “unsuitable” temporary detention rooms at Heathrow Airport for more than 12 hours at a time, according to a report.

The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) raised the concerns about the airport’s short-term holding rooms in its annual report published on Wednesday.

Although it welcomed “marked improvements” in the conditions, it said the facilities still failed to provide satisfactory overnight sleeping accommodation at a time when lengths of detention for some people had become “unacceptably long”.

Over nine months, 1,609 people were kept in a holding room for more than 12 hours, and some for over 24 hours, the report said.

Some were held in the arrivals hall for two hours or more before being admitted to a holding room.

In the same period nearly 1,500 children, either with relatives or unaccompanied, spent time in the holding rooms, some of them for 12 hours or more, the report said.

The IMB said: “Without fresh air and natural light, the holding rooms are unsuitable for the detention of children, whether with their families or unaccompanied, beyond the very briefest period.

“Despite recent improvements there continue to be concerns about the facilities available, when mentally ill people have to be detained.”

IMB chairman Angela Taylor said: “Overall we have found many detention and escort staff to be caring and sympathetic to the detainees they have to manage, including vulnerable individuals and families.

“However, the holding rooms can never be a friendly environment, especially for those individuals who are waiting for long periods, are tired and anxious after their flights, and in some cases are fearful of what will happen to them if they are sent back to their own country.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Immigration detention is an important part of the wider immigration system, but we are committed to using it sparingly and only when necessary.

“The health and welfare of those in immigration detention, especially children and other vulnerable people, is of the utmost importance.

“We are pleased that the Independent Monitoring Board has recognised that the removal of detainees at Heathrow Airport is carried out satisfactorily.

“We are considering the contents of the report and the Independent Monitoring Board’s recommendations carefully.”

A Heathrow spokeswoman said: “We’re taking the findings of this report very seriously and are working with the Home Office to resolve the issues highlighted.”

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