The information, revealed in a Parliamentary answer, shows:
889 children from 488 families were referred to a Minister for authorisation to be detained beyond 28 days between 2004/05 and 2009/10
A record number - 212 children from 122 families - were detained last year (2008/09)
Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne has also written to Alan Johnson to raise the plight of children in detention centres.
Commenting, Chris Huhne said: “These are the most extreme and most worrying cases out of nearly 500 children who appear to be detained at any one time.
“It is a moral stain on this country’s proud reputation in accepting refugees that we are routinely locking up children for months at a time even though they have committed no crime.
We are physically and psychologically harming children completely unnecessarily, as Sweden, Canada and Australia have shown there are a host of alternatives to detention.
“It is astonishing that Ministers can say this only happens in exceptional circumstances when they have personally signed off hundreds of cases.
“It is profoundly un-British to lock up innocent children at any time, but particularly poignant at Christmas.
“The Government must find its long lost moral compass and end the detention of children in immigration centres.”
Update 2009/12/22 The "Free Movement" web-site which comments on asylum and immigration law reports that the United Kingdom Borders Agency is already operating a more draconian procedure which does not officially come into force until 11th January 2010. "The new policy is, of course, couched in the weasely words and siren sounds one comes to expect of UKBA press releases and policy documents. The section that most sticks in the throat (there is competition) is about a so-called ‘best interests’ policy for not giving children any notice of their impending removal. Apparently it is in their best interests only to find out when they rock up at the airport. The modern UKBA tendency to dress up way they want to do as what they should do in the best interests of children is a disgraceful development."