Children handcuffed and held in 'inhumane' conditions at Britain's port detention facilities
MIGRANT children are routinely being handcuffed and held at length in "very poor" detention facilities at Britain's ports, a damning report has revealed. An investigation by the prisons watchdog has raised concerns that children held in short-term detention facilities run by Border Force, part of the Home Office, were not given access to legal advice or a phone call. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons visited facilities at eight seaports and five at airports in early March, the watchdog's first national inspection of such sites.
It found that children held at Poole and Portsmouth are regularly handcuffed "regardless of individual risk," describing this as "unacceptable." In Tilbury, inspectors witnessed Border Force officers send three teenagers found on a boat back to Belgium. Officers told inspectors that they would have been taken off the ship had they claimed asylum. The report raised concerns that the three were sent back without being interviewed in the presence of an appropriate adult, access to legal advice, or permitted a phone call.
Refugee Council policy manager Judith Dennis told the Morning Star that she was deeply concerned by reports of children being removed from the country "before they had a chance to apply for asylum or even speak to a lawyer regarding their rights." "The findings of this report are very alarming," she continued. "The government has a clear responsibility to protect the welfare of children who arrive in the UK after fleeing war-torn countries. "It's hard to envisage a scenario where handcuffing vulnerable children is necessary or proportionate."
Detention Action director Bella Sankey said that conditions at the sites were "neither humane, responsible or fair, especially given the acute vulnerability of those the Border Force routinely comes into contact with." Unicef UK director of advocacy Joanna Rea said: "Detainment is never in the child's best interest, and exposes children to physical and mental harm, even more so in the context of the coronavirus." On top of the poor conditions, inspectorate chief Peter Clarke hit out at Border Force for an "alarming lack of oversight and accountability." He said that officers had failed to keep records of the number of detainees, length of detention or type of detainees at sites, while some senior members of staff were not even aware which ports still had detention facilities.
A Home Office spokesperson said: "We take the criticisms contained in this report seriously and work to make improvements is already under way."