Child detention to end but new system is queried

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Child detention is to be phased out and will end completely by next May, deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said.

The family wing of Yarl's Wood immigration centre, in Bedfordshire,closed in December. Mr Clegg pledged that no child would be held indetention over Christmas.

An end to child detention was one of the agreements made by the LiberalDemocrats and Conservatives when they formed the coalition in May (News,19 May).

Mr Clegg said, 'The coalition Government has always been clear that thedetention of children for immigration purposes is unacceptable. We areplacing the welfare of children and families at the centre of a fairerand more compassionate system. In recent years we have seen hundreds ofchildren who have committed no crime locked up in detention centres.Today we show how we will ensure it never happens again.'

However, campaigners have asked for confirmation that the proposedalternative system, called the 'ensured returns' procedure, does notinvolve the detention of children under another name. Under the newsystem, families will be offered help to return to their home countryvoluntarily, but those who refuse will be given up to two weeks in whichthey will be allowed to remain in the community before boarding aflight. Others will be allowed to remain in the community on the basisthey could be removed from the UK at two weeks' notice. However,children could still be held in 'pre-departure accommodation' for up to72 hours as a last resort before they return, although they will stillbe able to leave the premises if they have suitable supervision.

Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green, England's first Children's Commissioner,who published a series of reports on the plight of asylum-seekingchildren, said, 'I welcome the statement that detention will end. Theevidence of harm to children from detention is incontrovertible, so whathappens between now and May and the proposed process of final returnstill demand the closest of public scrutiny, with ongoing rigorousmonitoring of what is being done to children and families'.

He added, 'Children seeking refuge are children first and foremost anddeserve the humanity and dignity that we would expect for children inour own families.'

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