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Detain immigrant children only as ‘last resort,’ Red Cross tells Canadian agency

January 12, 2016

By Jim Bronskill, Canadian Press |

Canada should lock up child immigrants only as a “last resort” and must find alternatives to detention for such vulnerable newcomers, the Red Cross says in its latest confidential inspection report.

Many of the humanitarian organization’s findings — and those highlighted in its previous annual studies — remain “largely unaddressed,” with some requiring “urgent attention,” says the report obtained by The Canadian Press.

It makes 37 recommendations to improve conditions for detainees, including better access to mental health services and an eventual end to the practice of holding some in provincial jails where they are mixed with criminals.

The Canada Border Services Agency holds people who are considered a flight risk or a danger to the public, and those whose identities cannot be confirmed.

As Canada extends a gracious welcome to thousands of Syrian refugees, the report is a stark reminder that the reality for many other newcomers is much different.

The Canadian Red Cross Society’s latest review of the border agency’s immigration detention system, finalized last November, was released under the Access to Information Act.

“The Red Cross sees persons in detention as potentially vulnerable,” the report says. “Their freedom of movement has been limited to a restricted area and their security and well-being are directly under the control of the detaining authority.”

Through an agreement with the border agency, the Red Cross monitors the treatment and conditions of people detained in Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

In 2013-14, the border agency held 10,088 immigrants — almost one-fifth of them refugee claimants — in a variety of facilities, including federal holding centres and provincial and municipal jails.

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