Asylum seeker child detention will end by May

By Peter Wozniak

Nick Clegg has finally confirmed government plans to end all child detention in immigration cases by next May.

The move, a key plank of the coalition agreement, will also see the family section of the controversial Yarl’s Wood detention centre closed.

The move represents an urgently needed opportunity for Mr Clegg to demonstrate Lib Dem influence on government policy after the tuition fees saga.

The deputy prime minister said this morning: “We’re putting the new arrangements in place as quickly as we can, and the new spirit is already governing the way the authorities operate. And on that, I hope the fact that there will be no children in detention this Christmas speaks for itself.

“Today’s announcement. puts our values, the protection of children, above paranoia over the protection of our borders. That puts the right thing over looking and sounding tough.”

The news of the announcement emerged yesterday in prime minister’s questions, when Labour MP John McDonnell asked the government to commit to ending child detention by next Christmas.

David Cameron’s response announcing Mr Clegg’s statement today, which, he said, would “end this scandal”, will come as a relief to campaigners concerned that the issue had been kicked into the long grass by the coalition after several delays.

The deputy prime minister had previously made a gaffe on the subject in his first stand-in performance at prime minister’s questions earlier in the autumn, when he suggested Yarl’s Wood would close entirely.

In fact the coalition’s commitment will only close the family section of the facility – meaning children of asylum seekers detained at Yarl’s Wood will be looked after by minders and will be able to move freely.

Martin Narey, chief executive of children’s charity Barnardo’s greeted the news warmly. He told the Today programme: “Incarcerating children is something you should do only after the most careful thought. Incarcerating children who have committed a crime is bad enough.

“Some of these are very, very young children indeed.

“Putting them in essentially a prison environment with barbed wire and bars and locks is not something you should do. It’s very, very damaging to the children indeed. It’s also unnecessary.”

But Professor Carolyn Hamilton, director of the Children’s Legal Centre said there was still “a long way to go”.

She criticised the government for ‘rebranding’ detention, adding: “The proposals for secure and supervised pre-departure accommodation appear to be detention by another name.

“Holding children in accommodation from which their parents are not allowed to leave for up to a week may prove just as psychologically damaging as other forms of detention.”

The detention centre has been a source of contention since it came into operation. The previous government argued it was necessary to prevent those awaiting deportation absconding and disappearing.