In what could be the largest immigration detention payout, the British government has paid a million pounds in compensation, and another million pounds in cash (a total of $3.2million), to teenage refugees it had wrongfully detained before 2005, the Guardian reported.
The two million pound payout involved detention of 40 children, 25 of which aged between 14 and 16, from countries including China, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iran, Nigeria, Eritrea, Uganda and Somalia, the Guardian newspaper reported.
The children, including a 14-year old Sri Lankan girl, were survivors of torture and some of the girls were also victims of rape and sexual violence, the report says.
The UK Immigration had wrongly detained the children as adults, based on appearance. The children were then asked to prove they were not adults. At some Immigration Service offices the rate of error was 78% of those assessed as adults who were later accepted to be children by the UK government, says Bhatt Murphy, the law firm representing the refugee children.
The affected children went through extreme hardships during the detention. “I couldn’t believe it. I had fled Eritrea to escape prison and thought I’d arrived in a safe country, but now I was being locked up again,” one of the girls told the Guardian newspaper.
There are court restrictions against identifying any of the claimants in this case.
Law firm Bhatt Murphy began proceedings against the state on behalf of the refugee children in 2005. The policy allowed immigration officers to treat child asylum seekers as adults and to detain them without assessing their age.
The children’s solicitor, Mark Scott says that it is obvious that vulnerable children who have done nothing other than to seek help should not be locked up by the state.
“The coalition government decided to end this abhorrent practice in 2010, such that it is of great concern if some child asylumseekers continue to be detained contrary to policy. This comes at a time when government cuts to legal funding for people on low income will make it increasingly difficult to hold the State to account in the courts”.
It has been the UK’s overriding policy that children who arrive in the UK separated from their families, should not be detained by the Immigration Service, save in exceptional circumstances and then only overnight whilst arrangements are made for the child’s care, says the law firm.
”Concern has been expressed by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons about the absence of child protection procedures within Immigration Detention Centres, thereby putting children at risk.
“The Home Office accepts that the conditions within Immigration Detention Centres are unsuitable for unaccompanied children.
“Despite this, the Home Office’s age dispute policy prior to November 2005 allowed nonspecialist Immigration Officers to refuse to accept an individual’s age if they claimed to be a child and instead to treat them as an adult if their appearance and/or demeanour strongly suggested they were 18 years or older’.
“This test permitted immigration officers, with no training in working with children, to assess an individual’s age purely on the basis of their appearance. The individual would continue to be treated as an adult for all immigration purposes until s/he could obtain evidence that s/he was a child.”