Heathrow monitoring board blasts UKBA for holding children in ‘degrading’ facilities

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) has been criticised for detaining children in “degrading” conditions at Heathrow Airport.

Despite the government’s pledge to end the detention of children for immigration, a report by the airport’s independent monitoring board found children were being kept in rooms with no natural light and poor ventilation when families are suspected of entering the UK illegally.

Facilities also had no beds, no place to wash and the seating was chained to the floor.

The report found that 15,000 people were detained in such conditions at the airport between February 2010 and January this year. This follows a report last year that also highlighted poor conditions at the airport.

It states: “The UK Border Agency has again failed in its duty to treat everyone in its care in Heathrow holding rooms with decency.

“In our last report we drew attention to the wholly unsuitable conditions in which men, women and children were held. There has been no change: they are still held in these conditions and still for too long. Lack of change is unacceptable on grounds of humanity.”

Among recommendations made is a review into how the accommodation can be improved. It also calls for a short-term residential facility near to the airport for families.

David Wood, the UKBA’s strategic director for criminality and detention, said: “On their arrival in the UK, families with children may currently be held while checks are made to determine whether they should be admitted into the country and, if not, until a return flight can be arranged for them.

“These checks are necessary to secure the UK border at points of entry, as well as to meet our obligation to safeguard the welfare of children, especially if trafficking or other forms of abuse are suspected.”

Kamena Dorling, who manages the Migrant Children’s Project at the Children’s Legal Centre, said the report highlights concerns that the UKBA is failing to meet existing domestic and international legal requirements on safeguarding the welfare of children.

“Almost one year on from the coalition government’s pledge to end child detention, despite some progress such as the closure of the family unit in Yarl’s Wood, children continue to be detained in short-term holding facilities, with little improvement of the conditions in which they are held.
“There are numerous reports and studies that make it clear that detention harms children, and we would urge politicians to work towards a genuine end to this practice, with the provision of non-custodial accommodation for use for families arriving in the UK, where appropriate.”