Medical Practitioners
United Kingdom

Each year the UK detains around 1000 children (1) in Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs). These children are members of families identified for removal from Britain, who are detained under administrative order. They range in age from very young babies to older teenagers, as well as so-called ‘age disputed minors’, who are alone. They have committed no crime but can be detained without time limit and without judicial oversight. During a recent six month period 83 children were held for more than 28 days.

Many of these children suffer neglect of serious medical conditions, both physical and psychological which are frequently made worse by their imprisonment. Examples include children being detained with sickle crises, continuing detention in ignorance of a vital central venous feeding line in place, failure to provide immunisation and malaria prophylaxis when due, weight loss, behavioural regression, onset or deterioration of pre-existing PTSD and depression, and suicidal behaviour. All of these failures of care have been documented by clinical experts and in parliament and the media (3,4).

The responsible body, the UK Borders Agency, and the commercial subcontractors who run immigration detention centres and healthcare in them have recently made investments in trying to improve the conditions. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that this has actually improved outcomes for these children, and considerable recent evidence to the contrary. However pretty you paint the walls, these children are still imprisoned, dealing with the traumas of dawn raids and being locked up. The administrative detention of children is simply too harmful to be accepted in a civilised society.

We congratulate the Royal Colleges of Paediatrics and Child Health, General Practitioners and Psychiatrists for their principled and evidence based statement calling for the end of the detention of children, and invite all paediatricians, psychiatrists and general practitioners to sign the petition below in support of this demand. We ask that you inform friends and colleagues within the medical profession about the petition and ask them to sign it too. We also commend the Royal Colleges’ statement to others who have responsibilities for children, especially nurses, social workers, psychologists and therapists, and teachers, and invite them to take up this issue through their own professional associations. This shameful and damaging practice must cease.

1) Home Office. Control of Immigration: Quarterly Statistical Summary, United Kingdom, April–June 2009. http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs09/immiq209.pdf
2) Lorek A et al. The mental and physical health difficulties of children held within a British immigration detention centre: a pilot study. Child Abuse & Neglect 2009; 33: 573.
3) House of Commons Home Affairs Committee. The Detention of Children in the
Immigration System. November 29, 2009.
4) Porter H. The brutal truth of child detention. Guardian. November 24. 2009.

The administrative detention of children is damaging to them, cannot be made otherwise, and is unacceptable in a civilised society. We call for the immediate cessation of this practice which is demonstrably and permanently harmful to children’s health, both in the short and long term.

We call upon the government to end the immigration detention of children and families.

Until that happens urgent steps are needed to minimise avoidable harms to children. These are as follows:

Children and young people in immigration detention should be recognised as Children in Need and given the same safeguards, such as an Initial Assessment completed within 7 days.

Primary and secondary medical care to CYP and their families should be adequately resourced and provided on the same in-reach basis as for the prison service.

GPs in the community and doctors in secondary care should consider the damaging effects of detention on children and young people and wherever necessary make representations to the immigration services to prevent children with health problems from being detained

GPs providing care for children in IRCs should be especially mindful of the damaging effects of detention on them, and intervene in a timely way to protect their health and well being, including recommending release of any child at risk of further harm. We call upon the GMC and the medical profession as a whole to support doctors who may have to defend themselves for carrying out their duties toward these children.

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The Stop the Administrative Detention of Children and Families petition to Medical Practitioners was written by Frank Arnold and is in the category Health at GoPetition.