Migrant children, often scared and alone, are being held in ‘unsuitable’ temporary detention rooms with no natural light or fresh air after flying into Heathrow Airport, a new report has found. Some of the children are kept in the airport’s immigration detention rooms for more than 12 hours at a time. The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) raised concerns about the short-term holding rooms in its annual report published today. Despite the airport making ‘marked improvements’ in the conditions, the IMB said there is no satisfactory overnight sleeping accommodation and some people were being detained for ‘unacceptably long’ periods. Over nine months, 1,609 people were kept in a holding room at the airport for more than 12 hours, and some for over 24 hours, the report said. Some were held in the arrivals hall for two hours or more before being admitted to a holding room. In the same period nearly 1,500 children, either with relatives or unaccompanied, spent time in the holding rooms, some of them for 12 hours or more, the report said.
The IMB said: ‘Without fresh air and natural light, the holding rooms are unsuitable for the detention of children, whether with their families or unaccompanied, beyond the very briefest period. ‘Despite recent improvements there continue to be concerns about the facilities available, when mentally ill people have to be detained.’ Angela Taylor, chairman of the IMB, said: ‘Overall we have found many detention and escort staff to be caring and sympathetic to the detainees they have to manage, including vulnerable individuals and families. ‘However, the holding rooms can never be a friendly environment, especially for those individuals who are waiting for long periods, are tired and anxious after their flights, and in some cases are fearful of what will happen to them if they are sent back to their own country.’
A Home Office spokeswoman said detaining immigrants is an ‘important part’ of the immigration system in the UK but said it is used ‘sparingly and only when necessary’. She added: ‘The health and welfare of those in immigration detention, especially children and other vulnerable people, is of the utmost importance. ‘We are considering the contents of the report and the Independent Monitoring Board’s recommendations carefully.’ A Heathrow spokeswoman said: ‘We’re taking the findings of this report very seriously and are working with the Home Office to resolve the issues highlighted.’