200 children split from their parents in immigration detention.

Arrested refugees in Greece, photo by Ggia

Arrested refugees in Greece, photo by Ggia

A new report from the NGO, Bail for Immigration Detainees, has shown that 200 children have been split from parents in immigration detention.

The report suggests a lack of concern on the part of UKBA for the welfare of the children of 111 parents examined by Bail for Immigration Detainees. 85 of the 200 children were placed in care or unstable arrangements, with parents detained for an average of 270 days.

The children reported extreme distress in each case. In 92 out of 111 cases, parents were eventually released, their detention having served no purpose.

Of the 15 parents eventually deported, one was a pregnant mother-of-two whose children were left with their father in the U.K.  Another was a single father, whose two children under 13 were left with his ex-girlfriend.

I interviewed Sarah Campbell, Research and Policy Manager at Bail for Immigration Detainees, about the full findings of the report.

1. How was the research conducted, how many children’s cases did you follow?

Research was carried out into the cases of 111 parents who were separated from 200 children by immigration detention between 2009 and 2012.

BID’s family team dealt with 115 parents who left detention between January 2009 and July 2012. For this research, data were collected from 111 of these parents and their 200 children. (Three parents did not consent to participating in this research. Another case was removed from the research sample because, after BID’s family team began work with the client, it became clear that she did not fit the team’s referral criteria.)

2. What really comes out of this report? What does it say about UK Border Agency’s actions and regard for the children of those in detention and, in some cases, those deported?

This report presents evidence of cases in which the Border Agency repeatedly failed to safeguard children when making decisions to detain their parents, with appalling consequences for the children concerned.

In another case, a mother was three months pregnant when she was deported without her husband and two children.

85 of the 200 children in the research were in fostering arrangements or local authority care during their parents’ detention.  Some children moved between unstable care arrangements, experienced neglect and were placed at risk of serious harm. Parents were detained without time limit, for an average of 270 days. In 92 out of 111 cases, parents were eventually released, their detention having served no purpose. In 15 cases, parents were deported or removed from the UK without their children.

It is difficult to imagine any other situation where children in the UK could be separated from their parents indefinitely and have such scant attention paid to their welfare.

Children who participated in this research described the extreme distress they experienced during their parent’s detention. They reported losing weight, having nightmares, suffering from insomnia, crying frequently, and becoming deeply unhappy, socially isolated and withdrawn. Some children were aware
that their parent could be deported, and were extremely anxious about this.

Detailed examination of the case files of a sample of 12 families revealed that, where evidence was presented to the Border Agency that children were experiencing extreme distress or neglect, this did not lead to decisions to release parents from detention in any of the cases surveyed.

15 of the 111 parents in this study were removed or deported from the UK without their children at the end of their detention. In one case, the Home Office deported a single father leaving his nine and 12 year old sons with his ex-girlfriend. They did not do anything to find out if the children’s care arrangement was safe. In another case, a mother was three months pregnant when she was deported without her husband and two children. Her bail summary stated that her two sons were ‘content to remain in the UK under their father and stepfather’s care’ despite considerable evidence of the children’s extreme distress at their separation from their mother.

3. Are human rights being breached?

To date, the High Court has on two occasions found that Bail for Immigration Detainee’s (BID’s) separated family clients were unlawfully detained (MXL, R (on the application of ) & Ors v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2010] EWHC 2397 (Admin) and NXT, R (on the application of ) &
Ors v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2011] EWHC 969 (Admin).

Despite the unlawful practices highlighted by the Administrative Court in those cases, many of the flaws which were revealed continued to be features of the cases set out in this report. In addition, BID is aware of a number of separated family cases where legal proceedings were commenced but where the Border Agency has paid tens of thousands of pounds in compensation prior to the case reaching trial.

There are serious problems with the quality of Home Office decision-making. 36% of appeals of Border Agency immigration and asylum decisions to the First-Tier Tribunal between April 2011 and March 2012 were successful

4. What would you like to see as concrete policy changes – an absolute promise that families will not be split up for example? But what if that would mean more children going into detention?

We are calling for an end to the separation of families by immigration detention. We believe that it is not necessary or humane for children to be detained or separated from parents who are in immigration detention.

We are also calling for the Home Office to start taking proper account of the welfare of children and families who are caught up in the immigration and asylum system.

Our research showed that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the detention of parents was entirely unnecessary even by the Home Office’s own standards. 92 of the 111 parents in the research were released, their detention having served no purpose. The risk of parents absconding is very low – families need to access support, schooling and healthcare for children. We therefore believe that parents should be released into the community to have their cases managed there, and be reunited with their children.

All too often, the wrong decisions are made on parents and children’s immigration and asylum cases – there are serious problems with the quality of Home Office decision-making. 36% of appeals of Border Agency immigration and asylum decisions to the First-Tier Tribunal between April 2011 and March 2012 were successful. In the 12 months to February 2011, 32 % of deportation appeals were successful. We are calling for improvements to Home Office decision-making, and a reversal of the Legal Aid cuts, so that parents do not end up in detention as a result of the wrong decisions being made on their cases.

5. And what does the report show about how the recent changes to legal aid have impacted this particular set of migrants?

The most recent set of Legal Aid cuts came in on 1st April this year – from 1st April, Legal Aid ceased to be available to the vast majority of individuals making immigration claims, including parents and children appealing removal and deportation decisions. The research for this report was carried out before this, so we weren’t able to investigate the impact of the cuts.

However, the complexity of immigration law means that it is extremely unlikely that parents will be able to successfully represent themselves. BID therefore anticipates that we will be dealing with very many more cases where parents are separated from their children by detention and removal from the UK.

Given the grave examples of failures to safeguard children presented in this research, it is extremely troubling to envisage a situation where children and families will be even less able to access their rights. It is instructive to consider the situation in the United States. In November 2011, a study by the US-based Applied Research Centre estimated that there were at least 5,100 children currently living in foster care in the United States whose parents were either in immigration detention or had been deported.

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