Report claims that UK Immigration detaining children in "degrading" conditions

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The UK Border Agency has been accused of detaining immigrant children in "degrading and disgraceful" conditions at Heathrow airport, according to an official watchdog, the Heathrow independent monitoring board (IMB).

The IMB claims that children of all ages are being detained at the airport for immigration purposes and sometimes kept overnight. According to the IMB report, they are held in rooms that are "small and stuffy" and have no natural light. The report added that there is no access to the open air, no sleeping accommodation, and only hand basins for washing. They often share space with adults they do not know and can be held in these conditions for many hours.

Specifically, the IMB report reveals that in 2011, up to 3,000 immigrants were held for more than 12 hours, resulting in many people, including children, spending the night there rather than at immigration removal centres.

The government-appointed IMB for Heathrow Airport was created five years ago to monitor the welfare of immigrants held in the non-residential, short-term holding facility. The IMB says that suitable accommodations for families with children need to be provided.

"Until this can be done, UKBA should make arrangements for any families held at the airport to be detained at a nearby hotel or other suitable space and for transport to be available promptly," said the report.

"The conditions under which children are being held, and detainees have to endure overnight, are degrading and disgraceful," says the IMB's annual report. "The detention of children continues, despite the government saying that it would end the detention of children for immigration purposes. The IMB recognises that children cannot always be admitted to the country straight away and are sometimes held for their own protection. It recommends that non-custodial, child-friendly accommodation is provided at Heathrow for families with children as a matter of urgency."

Last year, the private security company, Reliance, took over running the Heathrow immigration holding rooms. While the IMB says immigrant detainees have been well cared for by Reliance staff, the transportation to and from Heathrow is not well organised and detainees face long waits to be taken from the airport to immigration detention centres.

"We share the independent monitoring board's concerns about the quality of the accommodation provided by BAA [the airport operator]. We have raised this with them on numerous occasions in the past and will continue to do so to ensure those held at the border have proper facilities to meet their and our needs," said a UK border force spokesperson.

However, a BAA spokeswoman responded by saying: "We have not seen the report and therefore can't comment but are somewhat surprised by UK Border Force's response, since we have had many meetings with them recently and it has not been raised."

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