SUPPORTERS of a failed asylum seeker have praised a report that calls for an urgent review of policy after finding detaining children in immigration centres can cause anxiety and depression.

Campaigners for Elizabeth Kiwunga, who was removed from Darlington to her Ugandan homeland last month, said they hoped the report by medical experts will help change Government policy surrounding detaining children.

Ms Kiwunga’s case sparked anger from Children’s Commissioner Sir Al Aynsley Green after it was alleged she and her children, John and Hilary-Marie, were separated when they were taken to the Yarl’s Wood immigration centre, in Bedfordshire.

Sir Al has complained to the UK Border Agency chief executive, Lin Homer.

Yesterday’s report found holding children caused mental and physical health problems and was not in their best interests, and has called for an urgent Government policy review.

The study, published in the journal Child Abuse and Neglect, looked at a group of children at Yarl’s Wood.

Eleven were seen by a clincial psychologist and found to be “confused and frightened”, and of those, eight had developed severe emotional and behavioural problems.

The authors also expressed concern about the amount of time some children were separated from their parents – in one case, a 20-month-old baby was kept from her mother for three weeks.

Co-author Dr Ann Lorek, consultant paediatrician at the Mary Sheridan Centre for Child Health, in Lambeth, south London, said: “Our study contains evidence that children in detention have worsening physical and mental health, and express worrying levels of trauma and sickness, despite well-intentioned staff.”

One of Ms Kiwunga’s friends and supporters, the Reverend Sheilagh Williamson, of St Columba’s Church, Darlington, said: “Government policy does need to change. They need to take into account the damaging effect it has on the children of asylum seekers.”

David Wood, strategic director of the criminality and detention group of the UK Border Agency, said the research was limited and more than three years old, and that Yarl’s Wood had been praised for its children’s facilities on numerous occasions.

He said: “We would much rather keep children out of detention. However, when the courts say families have no right to be here, yet they refuse to go home voluntarily, detention will often be necessary to enforce removal from the UK.”