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Immigration: Yarl's Wood

Volume 716: debated on Tuesday 5 January 2010

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their response to staff of Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre not allowing the Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey to deliver Christmas presents to detained children. [HL742]

The incident involved a request from a Jonathan Cox, representing Citizens for Sanctuary and the St Nicholas Society, to come into Yarl's Wood to distribute gifts to children and not specifically from the Reverend Professor Nicholas Sagovsky, Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey.

The UK Border Agency has a duty to safeguard those in its care, especially children. That includes appropriate vetting of those who wish to work or operate in the immigration removal centres. Mr Cox's request was therefore declined primarily on security grounds because the two organisations were not known to centre staff and did not have suitable clearance to have direct contact with the children in our care. However, arrangements were made with the society for gifts to be delivered to the centre for onward distribution, which indeed occurred.

We have a full plan of activities for the celebration of major religious festivals, including Christmas. These include parties, a traditional carol service, and a visit by Father Christmas to Yarl's Wood.

Ministers of religion are able to make arrangements with the manager of religious affairs to attend an immigration removal centre subject to appropriate clearance, and I understand that an invitation has been extended to the Canon Theologian to visit Yarl's Wood at some point in the future.