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. Â At some Immigration Service offices the rate of error was 78% ofÂ 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 girlsÂ 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.Â Â The policy allowed immigration officers to treat child asylum seekers asÂ adults and to detain them without assessing their age.
The childrenâ€™s solicitor, Mark Scott says that it is obvious that vulnerable children who have done nothing other than to seek helpÂ should not be locked up by the state.
“The coalition government decided to end thisÂ 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 increasinglyÂ difficult to hold the State to account in the courtsâ€.
It has been the UK’s overriding policy that children who arrive in the UKÂ 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 theÂ childâ€™s care, says the law firm.
”Concern has been expressed by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons about the absence of childÂ protection procedures within Immigration Detention Centres, thereby putting children at risk.
“The Home Office accepts that the conditions within Immigration Detention Centres areÂ unsuitable for unaccompanied children.
“Despite this, the Home Officeâ€™s age dispute policy prior to November 2005 allowed nonspecialist Immigration Officers to refuse to accept an individualâ€™s age if they claimed to be aÂ child and instead to treat them as an adult if their appearance and/or demeanour stronglyÂ suggested they were 18 years or olderâ€™.
“This test permitted immigration officers, with noÂ training in working with children, to assess an individualâ€™s age purely on the basis of theirÂ appearance. The individual would continue to be treated as an adult for all immigrationÂ purposes until s/he could obtain evidence that s/he was a child.”