Children’s murals on the walls of the Manston processing centre have been painted over after the Immigration Minister deemed they were not ‘age appropriate’ for those passing through the site.
The cheery pictures, which were praised in a report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons published last month, were removed on July 4.
The i Newspaper first revealed Disney characters at the Kent Intake Unit at Dover had been painted out but it has now been confirmed that images at Manston have also been removed.
Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick told MPs yesterday: “We provide very high-quality facilities for families and children upon immediate arrival in the UK. I have made it a particular focus to ensure that we support those individuals appropriately, ensuring that conditions in those places are decent and compassionate at all times.
“The cohort of unaccompanied children who passed through the location… last year was largely teenagers. We did not feel that the site was age-appropriate, but it contains a range of support for children and infants, including all the things that he has described.
“Nothing about the decoration of sites changes the fundamentals: if someone comes to the United Kingdom, we will treat them with decency and compassion at all times.”
However, Manston has facilities for toddlers and mothers with babies and pre-teen children have been among those held at the site.
The inspection report in June noted that during the six months prior to the inspection, which was carried out between 30 January – 17 February, 17,562 detainees had been held in Manston, including 1,257 children and, of those, 26 who were unaccompanied. They were held for an average of 40 hours 43 minutes.
The average recorded time of detention for children travelling in family groups was two days 11 hours although 232 children had been held for more than 96 hours and the longest time of detention for a child was more than 19 days.
Unaccompanied children were held for an average of 21 hours 44 minutes. The report noted families with children were prioritised at Manston, but processing remained slow at busy times and inspectors observed some families with very young children waiting for several hours to be progressed into the family marquee, which they highlighted as being “in good condition.”
SNP MP Peter Wishart called the removal of the paintings “grotesque.”
Prison Officers Association assistant general secretary Andy Baxter said: “The Murals have been painted over.
“I am told the immigration minister thought they were not appropriate for a place of detention.”
Hindpal Singh Bhui, Inspection Team Leader for Immigration at HMI Prisons said: “We expect that immigration detainees of all ages should be held in non-punitive and non-carceral environments, and should be received into a welcoming and supportive reception environment.
“Our report on KIU, published in June, noted that in the six months preceding our inspection more than 2,400 unaccompanied children had been detained at KIU, although children should only be detained as a last resort and for the shortest possible period of time. The best interests of the child must be the primary consideration in all actions concerning children.”
‘Ensure children are safe’
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We do all we can to ensure children are safe, secure and supported as we urgently seek placements with a local authority. All children receive a welfare interview on their arrival at accommodation, which includes questions designed to identify potential indicators of trafficking or safeguarding issues.
“Our priority is to stop the boats and disrupt the people smugglers. The government has gone further by introducing legislation which will ensure that those people arriving in the UK illegally are detained and promptly removed to their country of origin or a safe third country.”
The Home Office says that while the murals have been removed, other features at the facility include larger and softer interview rooms, an outside space, prayer rooms, a larger reception area and improved security measures to ensure children’s safety.
A fundraiser to buy Disney themed toys for unaccompanied asylum seeker children at Dover’s KIU has been launched by Labour Briefing contributor David Osler. The appeal has so far raised just over £3,000. Any money ot used for the toys will go to charities including Care 4 Calais.