The UK Border Agency today reiterated the need to hold families for short periods at UK ports and airports in small numbers of cases in order to act in the interests of vulnerable children and protect the border.
On occasions, families will sometimes need to wait for short periods in safe, secure accommodation on site while enquiries are made to establish whether they should be admitted to the UK or, if they have no right to enter the country, until the time of the next available return flight.
If the timing of the next flight means that overnight accommodation is needed, families stay together at the recently refurbished family suites at Tinsley House, near Gatwick airport.
Protecting vulnerable children
In the case of unaccompanied children, it can take time to work with social services to arrange alternative accommodation. The UK Border Agency considers it has a duty of care not to release vulnerable young people before suitable assistance is arranged.
Between May and August this year, fewer than 700 children were held at the border in the south east. We are clear that children and families should be held in this way for the shortest possible time.
Until the next flight
Head of the UK Border Force, Brodie Clark, said: ‘We have always been clear that we may need to hold some families at the border while enquiries are made to decide whether they can be admitted to the country or until the next available return flight if they are refused entry.
‘In the case of unaccompanied children, we may need to hold them until alternative accommodation is arranged, usually through social services. The number of passengers held is very small compared to the millions that we process and tens of thousands we refuse entry to at the border each year and it is always for the shortest possible period.
‘Not doing so would weaken border security by allowing people into the country who have no right to be here, and, equally, to release unaccompanied children before social workers have arrived to support them would put them at great risk.’
For those families who have been in the country for some time but have no legal right to stay, the government has introduced a new process for managing their return which encourages them to leave voluntarily and without the need for enforcement action.
Family friendly accomodation
For those who do not take up this option and whose return needs to be enforced by the UK Border Agency, a new type of accommodation, known as Cedars, may be used to hold them for a very short period prior to their return.
Cedars is nothing like an immigration removal centre and families may be taken there only after advice has been sought from the Independent Family Returns Panel to ensure the welfare of the children has been taken into account.
So far, fewer than ten families have been returned following a brief stay in Cedars, which was opened in August and is near to Gatwick airport.