Children to return to immigration detention as government shuts specialised centre

Cedars pre-departure centre is being closed as a cost-cutting measure

Image: David Shaw

The minister for immigration, Robert Goodwill, announced yesterday that the government’s only pre-departure facility for families with children would be closed in order to cut costs.

Families will now be detained in a discrete unit within the Tinsley House detention centre near Gatwick, breaking the Coalition’s pledge to end child detention.

The Cedars facility was opened in 2011, in a building consisting of nine apartments and designed to feel more homely than typical immigration facilities. It’s operated by G4S and the charity Barnardo’s, who take responsibility for child welfare.

However, the government has concluded that it represents a misdirection of public money, since a relatively small number of families (14 last year) use the facility. Goodwill claims the low usage is ‘a testament to the overall success of the family returns process.’

However, the decision to close Cedars has already been heavily criticised.

Barnardo’s says that it ‘cannot support the move’ since, according to chief executive Javed Khan, ‘we do not feel that the new proposed new accomodation is in the best interests of children.’

As a result, Barnado’s will not be providing child welfare services at Tinsley House.

Judith Dennis, policy manager at the Refugee Council, also slammed the decision:

“The Government’s current practice of detaining children – the majority of whom are later released – is harmful, largely ineffective and inexcusable.

“The transfer of children and their families from Cedars to Tinsley House, a place even less equipped to care for them adequately, is a troubling retrograde step.

“Instead of looking for ways to save money at children’s expense, Ministers must urgently live up to the Government’s promise to end child detention once and for all. Children’s welfare must always come first, regardless of their immigration status.”

The Liberal Democrats, who pushed for the end of child detention while in government, have demanded that the government rule out the possibility of children being kept in lock-down accomodation.

Home Affairs spokesperson Alastair Carmichael commented:

“Ending the detention of children in lock-down institutions was something that the Liberal Democrats forced Theresa May as Home Secretary to do against her will. Now there are no restraints on her, she will indulge the more callous instincts of her party.”

Labour MP Lisa Nandy, who argued in 2011 that Nick Clegg had not gone far enough to realise his pledge to end child detention, also denounced the government move.

This move will confirm fears that, despite Theresa May’s new rhetoric of social justice, she does not intend to drop the regressive approach to immigration that characterised her time at the Home Office.

Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.

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