The “shameful” detention of children in immigration cases will be stopped by May, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will say on Thursday.
No child is currently in an immigration detention centre and no child will spend this Christmas in one as the Government values child protection above paranoia over the UK’s borders, he will say.
But under new measures, children could still be held in independently run, “pre-departure accommodation” for up to 72 hours as a last resort before their return.
The key pledge to end the practice of child detention, condemned as a “moral outrage” by Mr Clegg, was one of the first acts of the Government when it came to office.
The announcement “marks a big culture shift within our immigration system”, Mr Clegg will say. “One that puts our values – the protection of children – above paranoia over our borders. One that prioritises doing the right thing rather than looking and sounding tough.”
The family wing of the Yarl’s Wood immigration centre in Bedfordshire will be closed immediately.
He will go on: “We are ending the shameful practice that last year alone saw over 1,000 children – 1,000 innocent children – imprisoned. The practice that, under Labour, saw children literally taken from their homes, without warning, and placed behind bars. Our reforms will deliver an approach to families that is compassionate and humane, while still maintaining the integrity of our immigration system. Because our starting point is this: there is no greater test of civilised society than how it treats its children.”
Under the plans, families who have failed in their application to remain in Britain will be taken out of the hands of the Home Office and given to an independent panel of experts.
Families will be offered conferences to discuss their return home, welfare and medical concerns once the appeals process has been exhausted. Assisted voluntary return packages will also be offered. Those who refuse the support will be given up to two weeks in which they will be allowed to remain in the community before boarding a flight home.
As a last resort, “ensured returns” – which could involve spending up to 72 hours in pre-departure accommodation – will take place. But it is understood that children would still be able to leave the premises, subject to suitable supervision.