Heathrow holding rooms require better facilities for children and other vulnerable individuals held for long periods, says IMB

In its annual report on the short-term holding facilities, the Heathrow Airport IMB welcomes the marked improvements to the physical conditions in the holding rooms during the year since Mitie C&C took over the contract, but these facilities still fail to provide satisfactory overnight sleeping accommodation at a time when lengths of detention for some people have become unacceptably long.

  • Over nine months, 1609 people were kept in a holding room for more than 12 hours, and a small number for over 24 hours.  People seeking political asylum are likely to be detained for longer periods, frequently overnight. Some detainees are held for two hours or more in the arrivals halls before being admitted to a holding room. When Border Force staff are fully stretched dealing with large numbers at passport control, those being detained have even longer to wait.
  • Without fresh air and natural light, the holding rooms are unsuitable for the detention of children, whether with their families or unaccompanied, beyond the very briefest period.  In the same nine months nearly 1500 children, either in family groups or unaccompanied, spent time in the holding rooms, some of them for twelve hours or more.
  • Despite recent improvements there continue to be concerns about the facilities available, when mentally ill people have to be detained.
  • The Home Office has still failed to find any solution to the problem of detained passengers not being allowed to take medication in their possession.  This can be seriously detrimental to an individual’s health.  It is unacceptable that this situation has continued for three years without a satisfactory outcome.

IMB Chair, Angela Taylor said: “Overall we have found many detention and escort staff to be caring and sympathetic to the detainees they have to manage, including vulnerable individuals and families.  However, the holding rooms can never be a friendly environment, especially for those individuals who are waiting for long periods, are tired and anxious after their flights, and in some cases are fearful of what will happen to them if they are sent back to their own country.”

Notes for editors

  1. Heathrow Airport IMB is appointed by the Home Secretary to monitor and report on the welfare of people in immigration detention at the airport.  Board members are unpaid volunteers, who visit the airport usually twice a week.  As well as visiting the holding rooms, they observe the removal of people being taken under escort to their own country up to the time they board the aircraft.
  2. Immigration detainees are held in separate holding rooms at each of the terminals at Heathrow.  A further facility is used to accommodate people awaiting removal.