18 Dec 2010

UK to lift detention of children of asylum seekers

10:35 am on 18 December 2010

The British government says that by next May it will stop holding the children of failed asylum seekers in detention centres while they await deportation.

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg says the family wing at Yarl's Wood removal centre outside London, the main site for holding women and children, will close immediately and the practice will end completely by May.

Mr Clegg says the decision marks a "big culture shift" in immigration policy.

"[It] puts our values - the protection of children - above paranoia over our borders," he said.

"We are ending the shameful practice that last year alone saw over 1000 children - imprisoned.

"The practice that, under Labour, saw children literally taken from their homes, without warning, and placed behind bars."

The ABC reports that under the new plans, families who have failed in their application to remain in Britain will be managed by an independent panel of experts, and will be given help to plan their return home.

As a last resort, if they refuse help and refuse to go home, they could spend up to 72 hours in independently-run, "pre-departure accommodation".

But the children will be able to leave the premises, unlike under current rules.

Children's campaign group Barnardo's welcomed the announcement. Chief executive Martin Narey said "it's a good day for Britain.

"Incarcerating (children) simply because they have parents who wish to live here was unnecessary, expensive and more to the point, just plain wrong."

He said the last resort solution was a "small and necessary price to pay".