RCPsych joins leading medical bodies sounding alarm over plans to detain refugee children

Statement / comment
19 June 2023

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is sounding the alarm over Government plans to detain refugee children indefinitely.

Alongside leading medical organisations, as well as Together with Refugees, the College is warning of the serious harm that may come to children if current provisions in the Illegal Migration Bill become law.

In its current form the Bill would allow the Government to detain refugee children without a time limit. The bodies warn that this move will leave thousands of children at risk of harm to mental and physical health.

In a joint letter to the Home Secretary Suella Braverman MP and Health Secretary Steve Barclay MP, the College called for an urgent meeting to discuss these grave concerns.

Signatories to the letter also include the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the BMA and the Faculty of Public Health.

A Refugee Council impact assessment on the proposed Bill found that over 45,000 children could be detained in the first three years of the Bill coming into force. This includes nearly 15,000 children who have been separated from their parents and who have come to the UK alone.

Before the routine detention of children in the UK ended in 2014, medical experts found that almost all detained children suffered a significant deterioration in their mental and physical health as a direct result of their detention.

Reported child mental health difficulties included emotional and psychological regression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), clinical depression and suicidal behaviour. Significantly, the consequences of being detained continued to impact children’s lives and well-being long after they were released.

Dr Adrian James, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:

“This Bill’s potential to permit detaining children for indefinite periods is wholly unacceptable, especially when they are already some of the most vulnerable members of society.

“Before they arrive, asylum seekers and refugees are likely to have experienced significant trauma both in the country they have left, and on their journey to the UK. Once here being detained heightens their risk of developing, or worsening, a mental illness.

“In previous years Government policy sought to enact strict limits on child detention. It is alarming to witness such a gigantic step backwards, returning to a way of thinking that is outdated and just plain wrong.

“We call on Government to immediately remove any provisions from the Bill that would allow this to happen and instead focus on the support and safeguards that should be established to meet children’s needs.”

Enver Solomon, Refugee Council CEO and Together with Refugees spokesperson, said:

“Most people in the UK would rightly be appalled by the idea of locking up thousands of children who arrive here in search of safety, having fled war zones and persecution. We know from our work that they are scared and deeply traumatised, in dire need of being looked after with great care. Putting them behind bars will only compound their trauma and cause huge distress.

“As a nation, we must stand firm in our commitment to uphold children's rights and show care and compassion to every one of them who reach our shores in need of protection.”

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