British journalist Clare Sambrook on just another day in Britain:
“You’re a big boy now so I have to search you,” said the immigration officer to the five-year-old, donning latex gloves and patting him down at a Heathrow Airport detention facility run by outsourcing giant G4S.
The child had been booked into Terminal 4’s “short term holding facility” as a “visitor” which meant that his detention would have gone unrecorded but for a surprise visit by two of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Prisons on 3rd March this year.
The boy, an EU national, had been returning home to Britain with his father, a non-EU national, after a family visit to the father’s country of origin. The Inspectors noted that the child was detained “without the necessary authority”.
Their “Report on an unannounced inspection of the short-term holding facility at Heathrow Airport Terminal 4”, published today , found that in three months to February 2011 the lock-up had held 78 children, including eight unaccompanied minors. Their average stay was 9.9 hours, twelve children were held for more than 18 hours — the longest detention being 23.9 hours. Not all staff were CRB checked.
This, more than a year after the Coalition Government pledged to end the detention of children for immigration purposes, and six months after deputy prime minister Nick Clegg claimed it had been accomplished .
The five-year-old subjected to the latex “rub-down search” then witnessed his father’s humiliation. The father’s phone was confiscated, but, say the Inspectors, he was not offered the free telephone call to which he was entitled.
Instead of being taken to the family room, which had children’s toys, books and posters (but no natural light nor access to fresh air), the father and child were held in the adult room.