Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre will close to children with immediate effect today, following a review of the detention of children, and family returns, by the Government working with key partners.
Earlier this year the Coalition Government committed to end child detention for immigration purposes. Today, it unveils a new, compassionate approach to family removals, following a wide-reaching review and consultation.
The UK Border Agency will now follow a new four stage process focused on engagement with families during the decision making process, giving parents the opportunity to engage in when and how they return, when they have been found to have no legal right to stay in the UK. The new measures will ensure a family's return home is safe and dignified.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said:
"Today marks an enormous culture shift within our immigration system.
"The Coalition Government has always been clear that the detention of children for immigration purposes is unacceptable.
"We are placing the welfare of children and families at the centre of a fairer and more compassionate system.
"In recent years we have seen hundreds of children, who have committed no crime, locked up in detention centres. Today we show how we will ensure it never happens again."
Immigration Minister Damian Green said:
"I am delighted to announce the immediate closure of Yarl's Wood to children, as pledged by the new Government earlier this year. We also said we would end the detention of children for immigration purposes, and that's what we've done.
"There is a fine balance between taking a compassionate approach to family removals, and ensuring individuals with no legal right to be in the UK cannot prolong their stay and break the rules.
"I believe our new measures are both humane and fair. We are providing assistance packages, and family conferences to ensure families understand their options, and will be trying to ensure that they can remain in the community prior to their departure home. We are also creating a new independent family returns panel to ensure that the welfare of children is considered and properly factored into return plans where enforcement action is necessary."
Specially trained family case workers will in future work with families throughout the asylum decision making process. Once a family's appeals have been exhausted they will be offered support through a new process. It will include:
* family conferences to discuss their return home, welfare and medical concerns and offer families tailored assisted voluntary return packages;
* assisted voluntary return packages to help them resettle upon their return;
* required returns for families who fail to take up the assistance package, allowing them to remain in the community, but giving two weeks notice to board their flight home and allowing families to self check-in without the need for enforcement action; and finally
* an ensured return, as a last resort. If they fail to depart the UK, we will consider a range of options to ensure the return of families which will be tailored to each family's circumstances. Return plans will be agreed by a new independent panel. New options being developed include a form of short notice removal, the use of open accommodation, and - as a last resort where families resolutely fail to comply- family friendly, pre-departure accommodation, where we will allow children to have the opportunity to leave the premises subject to a risk and safeguarding assessment and suitable supervision arrangements.
Mr Green added:
"Our aim is to support families throughout this process, helping them remain in the community, and giving them every chance to tie up their affairs, before their flight home.
"Sadly there are always going to be those who try to frustrate the process and refuse to comply with our requests to leave. For those families we have developed a range of options short of detention to ensure their return."
An Independent Family Returns Panel is being set up to ensure that child welfare and safeguarding issues are central to individual family return plans.
The panel will be made up of an independent chair appointed by the Home Secretary and other independent experts. The UK Border Agency and Department for Education would each also appoint a representative.
The role of the panel will be to ensure that safeguarding considerations are properly factored into family returns. Appointments will be made in consultation with relevant professional bodies.
The UK Border Agency aims to have the new pre-departure accommodation in place in May 2011. In the meantime, if a family refuses to return home, Tinsley House, near Gatwick Airport, may be used as a last resort.
Children's Minister Sarah Teather said:
"This is a reassuring day for children and families in difficult and stressful circumstances in the immigration system. From today, Yarl's Wood will shut its doors to families with children going through the immigration process. By doing this the Government has delivered on its commitment to ensure no families with children are in Yarl's Wood over Christmas.
"I have always passionately believed that the UK needs an immigration system which deals properly with people who have no right to remain in the country but is also humane, treats vulnerable families with respect and safeguards children's welfare. Today's announcement proposes radical improvements, which will require a significant culture change, but aim to deliver a fairer, more socially just, and balanced system."
Maggie Atkinson Children's Commissioner for England responding to the announcement said:
"This welcome news is the culmination of five years' work under two Children's Commissioners in which we have consistently reported the conditions in which children subject to immigration controls have been detained and the impact this has had on their welfare. Documentary evidence, visits and face to face interviews with children showed us the damaging impact it has on children's mental and physical health.
"I was therefore one of the first to welcome the Government's commitment to end detention. The other Children's Commissioners in the UK and I constructively contributed to this consultation on alternatives.
"I am enthused this review now lays out a clear path to end the detention of children for immigration purposes. The closure of the family unit at Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre is good news for children and young people.
"Whilst this is a major step we will continue monitoring progress and working with the Government to ensure children are treated properly while in the asylum system."
NOTES TO EDITORS
1. The review into the detention of children for immigration purposes began in June 2010. A working group co-chaired by the UK Border Agency and Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund and incorporating a wide range of NGOs and interested parties met regularly throughout the review. The review also received 342 written submissions from the public and regular briefing from safeguarding experts in the Department for Education.
2. 96 families have participated in ongoing pilot schemes in the North West and London since June 2010.
3. Since June 2010, fewer than 50 families have been detained (compared to 300 for the same period in 2009). The average stay in detention has been reduced from 16 days to less than four days in that time.
4. Please contact the Home Office Press Office if you require further information.
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