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Unsuitable conditions for those held for long stays at London Heathrow airport holding rooms

In its annual report published today, the independent monitoring Board for London Heathrow and City Airports says that the Heathrow airport holding rooms are unsuitable for lengthy stays for adults and particularly for children.

The Board notes that during the year over 2,000 people were held at Heathrow for over twelve hours and 276 of these for over 24 hours. Over 1500 children, either unaccompanied or in families, had stays in the Heathrow holding rooms at some point during the year. The facilities especially in Terminal 5 are not suitable for long stays for children.

Other concerns include:

  • Many passengers were detained overnight, some for over 24 hours, with only a thin mattress on the floor or seating to sleep on.
  • With the closure of Terminal 4, the other holding rooms were at times crowded.
  • Terminal 5 holding room has no showers, and the showers in other terminals were frequently out of order.
  • At busy times, there were insufficient Border Force staff to process cases swiftly enough to ensure humane treatment.

In addition, for much of the year, those detained were not able to access their own prescribed medication or over-the-counter medication. AeroMed paramedics have now been appointed to Heathrow to attend to such health needs, a very welcome step. This service is not available at London City Airport.

The Chair said: ”Though Covid severely curtailed our visits in the first part of the year, the report provides a detailed picture of immigration detention activity at the two airports and at the reporting centres. Overall we have found many detention and escort staff to be caring and sympathetic to the detained people they have to manage. However, detention is often an isolating and uncomfortable experience, especially for those individuals who are waiting for long periods, are tired and anxious after their flights, and in many cases are fearful of what will happen to them.”