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The Coalition Agreement committed the Government to ending child immigration detention. This led to the Government developing a new policy on family removals, aspects of which are now enshrined in the Immigration Act 2014.

Under the policy, families with children are no longer detained in Immigration Removal Centres before removal from the UK, although they may be held for up to a week in secure “pre-departure accommodation”. This accommodation facility, called ‘Cedars’, opened in August 2011.

The new ‘family returns process’ is:

• Following a case conference with Home Office staff, families are encouraged to make a voluntary departure.

• Those who do not leave have a removal arranged by the Home Office, but can continue to live in the community in the meantime and self-check-in at the airport.

• A tailored ‘family return plan’ is prepared for families who do not cooperate with these processes. The Independent Family Returns Panel considers the plan and may suggest changes. As a last resort, non-compliant families may be accommodated for a few days in the ‘Cedars’ pre-departure accommodation, before being subject to an ‘ensured’ (enforced) removal from the UK.

The Coalition’s policies continue to allow for families and unaccompanied children to be held in short-term holding facilities at UK ports of entry (or in Tinsley House Immigration Removal Centre) pending their admission to or immediate removal from the UK. The Government said that it expected these powers to be used sparingly (for a “few dozen families each year, usually for less than 24 hours”). However figures disclosed suggest that a far greater number of children have been held in these facilities in practice.

Some campaigners question whether the Government can really claim to have ended child detention, given the secure nature of the pre-departure accommodation and the continued use of short-term holding facilities, for example. The Government says that these ‘last resort’ measures are necessary for maintaining robust immigration controls, and are consistent with the commitments it made in 2010.

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