Royal colleges back call to end the detention of children

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 09 September 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c4961
  1. Zosia Kmietowicz
  1. 1London

    Three medical royal colleges have backed a call from the charity Medical Justice for the government to release immediately any children and their families detained for reasons of immigration and to close all such facilities.

    An investigation by the charity has found that detaining children for immigration purposes causes widespread anxiety, suffering, and harm. Several children have attempted to end their lives and physical health problems have been exacerbated or directly caused by detention, says the report.

    Medical Justice, which arranges for doctors to visit detainees in UK immigration removal centres, says that both Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, and the UK Borders Agency, have broken promises made in July to close Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre and to end child detention there. Children have continued to be detained at the centre as recently as 6 September, says the charity.

    It says its findings warrant a full public inquiry into how UK immigration policy led to the routine detention of children and how the Borders Agency seems to have violated the substance of government announcements.

    Jon Burnett, author of the report, said, “The fact that UKBA [the UK Borders Agency] is still detaining children at Yarl’s Wood despite announcements to the contrary raises serious questions about the consistency between the will of government and the actions of UKBA. The government must now show it is in control of UKBA. It must order and ensure the release of any detained children today and stop what the Deputy Prime Minister correctly refers to as ‘state sponsored cruelty’.”

    The Royal Colleges of Paediatrics and Child Health, Psychiatrists, and General Practitioners, backed the call saying that the government must make its pledge to end the detention of children a reality.

    Medical Justice’s report examined the impact of detention on 141 children who were detained for an average of 26 days between 2004 and April 2010.

    The report found that 74 children were psychologically harmed by their experiences, developing symptoms of bed wetting and loss of bowel control, heightened anxiety, and food refusal. Nearly half (34) exhibited developmental regression and three girls attempted to end their own lives.

    Half of 92 children who had physical symptoms were not adequately treated and some were left in severe pain, says the report.

    In some cases children were alleged to have been given inappropriate and dangerous levels of malaria prophylaxis to ensure they were removed from the UK. There were also concerns that detention affected parents’ ability to care for their children and that children were separated from their families.

    Medical Justice says there is also confusion about the setting up by the UK Borders Agency of a series of “pilot” projects that seek to remove children from the UK without the use of detention. There is little documentation about how the pilots should run or how they will be evaluated. The charity fears they have been set up to fail and justify a return to retention centres.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c4961


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