Children Held In “Unsuitable” Detention Rooms At UK Border

A report by a prison watchdog has found that migrant children are being held in ‘unsuitable’ temporary detention rooms for over 12 hours at a time. The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) raised concerns about the conditions in a report on Wednesday.

British Airways at LHR
Heathrow holding rooms are unsuitable for children. Photo: Tony Higsett via Flickr

All of the four terminals at Heathrow contain a holding room, where passenger who arrive seeking asylum will be locked in until they can be interviewed by Border Force. The report found that these rooms were in poor condition, with no showers, no access to the internet and no fresh air or daylight. Almost 1,500 children spent time in these rooms over the nine month period investigated, many of whom were held for more than 12 hours.

What are the details?

According to the IMB report, over the course of nine months a total of 1,609 people were kept in a holding room for time periods exceeding 12 hours. Some were kept for more than 24 hours. In many cases, people were left in the arrivals hall for two hours or more prior to being admitted to the holding area.

Arrivals hall
Some detainees spent two hours or more in the arrivals hall before being moved to the holding rooms. Photo: Heathrow Airport

One third of detainees were held in custody for at least eight hours, and the IMB  noted that those seeking political asylum were more likely to be detained for significantly longer, many overnight. They specified that, at times when the Border Force staff are stretched and dealing with high numbers at passport control, detainees were often faced with very long waits.

Over the same period of time, a total of almost 1,500 children, many of whom were unaccompanied, spent time in the holding room too. Some were kept there for more than 12 hours. The IMB says that, whether children are accompanied or alone, the holding rooms are unsuitable for minors ‘beyond the very briefest period’.

The IMB raises issues with the facilities at these holding rooms, saying they lack natural light, fresh air and space. They say that, unlike Immigration Removal Centers, people being held in Heathrow’s holding rooms are denied access to legal advice and to the internet.

They also say that there is no access to medication, even if they have it in their own possession, and that showers are frequently out of use.

Some improvements being made

The IMB has acknowledged that some improvements have been made. These include redecorating the rooms to provide a more welcoming and safe space. They also said that detention custody officers were found to be kind and courteous to detainees.

Border Force at Heathrow
Border Force at Heathrow were found to be kind and courteous. Photo: Heathrow Airport

However, overall the IMB thought that individual detainees were left for too long in the rooms. They stated that “some DCOs do not engage sufficiently with the detainees to look after their needs”, and that this could leave people feeling anxious and isolated.

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More work to be done

IMB have issued a number of areas for development which will be under consideration at the Home Office. These include:

  • Making Heathrow Airport carry out repairs to shower rooms
  • Providing each holding room with a translator device so DCOs can communicate with detainees
  • Providing phones with two handsets to allow private two way conversations
  • Providing overnight residential accommodation for children at Heathrow
  • Improving the facilities at Terminal 5 for children and families
  • Inspecting and replacing toys as necessary
  • Ensuring access to legal advice is available
  • Ensuring access to the internet (under supervision if necessary) is given
  • Recruiting more Border Force employees to reduce waiting times
  • Allowing detainees to take their prescription medications

There are also a number of recommendations for the Detention Contractor, including interacting with detainees more frequently, tidying the room and respecting cultural needs such as the provision of Halal food.

More improvements are needed. Photo: Heathrow Airport

A Home Office spokesperson told the Evening Standard that,

“Immigration detention is an important part of the wider immigration system, but we are committed to using it sparingly and only when necessary. The health and welfare of those in immigration detention, especially children and other vulnerable people, is of the utmost importance. We are considering the contents of the report and the Independent Monitoring Board’s recommendations carefully.”

A Heathrow spokesperson told Simple Flying,“ We’re taking the findings of this report very seriously and are working with the Home Office to resolve the issues highlighted.”

Let’s hope that the situation at Heathrow Airport improves in the future.

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How terrible! Imagine not having 5-star facilities, and having to wait for several hours when you were expecting fast-track, deluxe service! I think the Hilton at the airport should be vacated, and made available to these people…complete with butler/valet service, and a limo to take them to Harrods while their paperwork is being processed.
Jesus Christ, do you think the rest of us have never had to spend hours in transit, without wifi or showers, when something goes wrong? Never been stuck in Indonesia when a volcanic eruption causes cessation of flights? Or stuck in Cairo when EgyptAir overbook a flight?


Exactly Nigel. This is getting crazy out of hand. Common sense has gone the way of the dodo in the west.

Dave H

Im sure the ‘unsuitable’ rooms were much better than where they arrived from.

Doron Kabilio

Identify the people buying migrant children tickets and invoice them the cost of the 5 Star treatment these kids deserve?

What is going on here?
Dont blame the govt, blame the parents, guardians, it’s their doing, not Heathrows