Precious 'victory' as coalition ends detention of child asylum seekers
DETENTION for child asylum seekers is to be brought to an end in the UK, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has revealed.
• Precious Mhango faces the threat of deportation. Picture: Robert Perry
Mr Clegg said the family unit at Yarl's Wood detention centre will be shut down.
The centre in London is where children are transferred to after child detention was earlier ended at Dungavel in Scotland - one of the first acts of the new coalition government.
The announcement was described as a victory for ten-year-old Precious Mhango who faces the threat of being deported back to Malawi with her mother Florence.
Precious's story came to prominence after her journals of her time spent in Dungavel and Yarl's Wood were revealed.
Mr Clegg made the announcement during Prime Minister's Questions yesterday as he stood in for David Cameron.
Mr Clegg said it was a "moral outrage" the previous Labour Government locked up 1,000 children "who were innocent of any wrongdoing whatsoever".
He added: "I can confirm that the government will come forward shortly with an announcement about how we will deliver on our pledge to end child detention and to close the Yarl's Wood Detention Centre for good."
Later the Home Office was forced to clarify the position and correct the Deputy Prime Minister.
In a statement the Home Office said: "The new government has been clear in its commitment to end the detention of children and this includes those held in the family wing at Yarl's Wood.
"We are currently working to find an alternative that protects the welfare of children, without undermining our immigration laws. Yarl's Wood family unit will be closed, but the centre will continue to function as an immigration removal facility for adults."
Isabella Sankey, director of policy for human rights group Liberty, said: "The 'Yarl's Wood family unit' is a notorious contradiction in terms, where children have been incarcerated and mothers driven to despair.
"We look forward to government plans to close the unit and to replacing detention with a more humane and family-friendly policy.
"Protecting those fleeing persecution is a moral and legal obligation. It is no crime to be a refugee and certainly no crime to be a child."
Maggie Atkinson, Children's Commissioner for England, said: "We are working with the government to establish suitable alternatives to detaining families in this way.
"Today's move is one step closer to achieving a fairer asylum and immigration system."
Chris Mercer, Precious's godmother, said: "I'm very pleased that this decision has been made. It means Precious's suffering has not been completely in vain, although we are still very worried for her.
"Hopefully it means that other children will not suffer in the same way."
But she added: "My welcome is tempered because we still do not know what will replace it. I hope it does not mean children are just put on planes out of the country."
SNP Glasgow MSP Anne McLaughlin, who has been campaigning for the release of Precious, said: "I find it hard to welcome this announcement because it is simply the right thing to do and should never have happened in the first place.
"There are still question marks over the timetable and how many more children will suffer like Precious before the Home Office makes up its mind."
• Gaffe-prone Clegg blows away Straw man
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