UK immigration detainees banned from accessing refugee support and human rights websites

The Free Movement blog quotes a recent unannounced official HMIP report on Haslar immigration detention centre which reveals that centre staff had blocked the websites for Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) and Amnesty International. According to the report’s authors

Detainees had access to the internet, but some key websites were blocked. The officer on duty in the internet suite could unblock any site. When we visited, the officer agreed to unblock the Bail for Immigration Detainees’ website but not Amnesty International’s without more senior approval.

Colin Yeo writes:

BID is a small charity that informs immigration detainees of their legal rights and the immigration bail process and who co-ordinates free representation that many immigration barristers, myself included, provide on a rota basis. Amnesty International is somewhat better known and amongst other things provides country information essential for fighting asylum claims and gathers data about human rights abuses in detention.

I wonder what other websites were blocked? AVID have been working on this issue and I have reported on it previously. There seems to be a discretion to block websites at each detention centre.

On a similar note, the inspection found that the number of detainees who had managed to see their lawyer had halved since 2009, falling from 51% to 26%, “welfare” staff wrongly prevented some detainees from attending legal surgeries and the Home Office broke procedure rules by withholding the documents for bail hearings.

So why would the profit making private companies responsible for immigration detention want to block access to websites that might inform detainees of their bail rights and allow them to report abuses, reduce access to lawyers, prevent detainees from preparing their own asylum cases properly, all thereby increasing the pool of immigration detainees? Answers on a postcard, please.

Restrictions on detainees’ access to mobile phones, faxes and websites and contacts with refugee support organisations, legal representatives, independent medical care and even international human rights monitors have been widely reported and are consistent with the Home Secretary’s intention to create an increasingly ‘hostile environment’ for asylum seekers following the passing of the 2014 Immigration Act. The Home Office knows that cutting detainees off from the outside world is an effective way of denying detained asylum seekers access to justice. Refugee rights groups and human rights organisations must unite in condemning this disgraceful censorship and hold the Home Office and its private contractors properly to account for breaking its own procedures.


Boy locked up for months in adult immigration jail

Child detention goes on in the UK regardless of government claims to have ended it.

By Tom Sanderson (reposted from OurKingdom) 12 June 2013

 

A boy was locked up for months at a UK immigration facility earlier this year, according to freshly released official data. The revelation dramatically exposes the falsity of government claims that the harmful practice of detaining children for administrative convenience has ended.

The Home Office does not reveal the boy’s exact age or the precise length of his incarceration, only that he was aged 12 to 16, and held for between two and three months at Campsfield House, an adult immigration jail near Oxford.

Classed as an immigration removal centre, Campsfield holds 216 male detainees, many in multiple occupancy rooms furnished with bunkbeds. It is run for the government by commercial contractors Reliance Security Task Management.

In all 37 children were locked up for immigration purposes in the first three months of 2013. The Home Office concedes that the number would have been still higher, but Tinsley House removal centre, near Gatwick, was closed to new detainees for most of the period due to an outbreak of infectious illness.

“Since the start of 2011, the overall trend for children entering detention has risen,” said the Home Office.

Yet the government maintains the fiction that it has ended child detention as it promised to do in the Coalition Agreement of May 2010. “We will end child detention for immigration purposes,” they said then.

In December 2010 deputy prime minister Nick Clegg announced the immediate closure of the family unit at the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire. He promised child detention would “end completely” by May 2011.

The Liberal Democrat leader spoke movingly of children “locked up, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months, in one case for 190 days — something no innocent child should ever have to endure”. Clegg’s rhetoric of compassion gave his party a much needed ‘win’ in a pre-Christmas period rocked by student protest and accusations of betrayal.

But child detention did not end. Instead it was rebranded as “family friendly pre-departure accommodation”. Or PDA for short. The government opened a new detention facility in August 2011, in the Sussex village of Pease Pottage. They called it Cedars, a government acronym for Compassion, Empathy, Dignity, Approachability, Respect and Support.

The first report on Cedars by the Prisons Inspectorate, in October last year, revealed that staff had used “substantial force” against a pregnant woman causing “significant risk of injury to her unborn child”. Children and their parents had been forcefully restrained. One mother had been grabbed by her hair. More than half of the families held been arrested in dawn raids repeatedly criticised over years as unnecessarily distressing.

Both Cedars and Tinsley House, the facility near Gatwick airport where a 10 year old girl tried to strangle herself in 2009, are run by the security company G4S. That company is currently facing an inquest over the death of another detainee, Jimmy Mubenga. Charity outsourcer Barnardo’s works in partnership with G4S at Cedars.

Since December 2010 child detention has been recorded in every quarter.

The numbers of children detained are far lower than under Labour when they peaked at perhaps 2000 annually, but higher than might have been inferred from Clegg’s forecast of “tiny numbers of cases” detained as “an absolutely last resort”.

Remarkably, Clegg continues to take credit for ending child detention even though it demonstrably goes on. “It’s because of us that children are no longer detained for immigration purposes,” he claimed this past March. This was one of his “proudest achievements in government”.

Santa and helpers blockade UKBA family removal operations in Glasgow

This morning, Monday 10 December, Santa Claus, with the help of some of his elves, erected an 18 foot tall tripod outside the main entrance of the UKBA offices in Glasgow to prevent immigration officials carrying out controversial dawn raids on the families of asylum seekers.

Santa refused to come down from the tripod, which was decorated with tinsel and Christmas decorations, until the UKBA  promised that no more children will be terrorised by immigration officials breaking into their homes to arrest them.

After Santa got into position (with a little Christmas magic) two dark blue UKBA enforcement vans containing officials setting out to carry out an immigration enforcement action were prevented from leaving. Other immigration officials have been prevented from entering the offices for work. Protesters believe that the vans were on their way to raid another asylum seeker family.

 

Santa in his traditional red and white costume and with a big white beard was supported by a group of elves from the Campaign Grotto based at the Unity Centre, Glasgow. Several police were in attendence during the day and observers decribed the atmosphere as very good humoured. Protesters played Christmas carols during the action.

 

Santa said: “I’m taking this action to stop any more children from being detained by the UKBA like little 4 year old son Shahmer who with his two teenage sisters and mum and dad was arrested in his home last week by the UKBA. I am shocked that children can be locked up in this way when the government pledged they would never do this again.”

[Story courtesy of Indymedia UK and Glasgow Unity]

Support the Day of Action against Child Detention Charity Barnardos on November 8th

Please support the Day of Action against Barnardos on Thursday – a so-called ‘children’s charity’ that makes the disgusting and shocking mistreatment of families like the Salehs possible and whose so-called ‘red lines’ are just insults to the injuries dozens of families continue to experience as they are dawn raided, detained and forcibly deported to who knows what danger or further persecution…

 

Further details at
http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2012/11/502182.html

ECDN addresses the Medsin Annual Conference at Warwick University

End Child Detention Now ran a well-attended workshop at the Medsin 2012 Conference at Warwick University on Saturday 20 October. Esme Madill from ECDN talked about the physical and mental harm experienced by children in immigration detention, and explained that although fewer children were being detained than under the previous government, the number of children held in ‘pre-departure accommodation’ at Cedars and the existing immigration detention centre Tinsley House near Gatwick was continuing to increase. Even a few days previously, a disturbing dawn raid had been carried out by the UK Border Agency on the Saleh family on their home in Wales. The family has since been taken to Cedars where they are being held against their will pending enforced removal to Egypt where the mother fled domestic violence five years ago.

 

Student participants contributed dozens of handprints calling on Nick Clegg and David Cameron to honour their broken promise to end child detention in the UK and signed ‘Keep Your Promise’ postcards which will be posted to No 10 Downing Street. Until the brutal and inhumane treatment that families like the Salehs faced is ended for good, the campaign to end child detention will continue.

The UK Border Agency’s long, punitive campaign against children

Today OurKingdom publishes Clare Sambrook’s damning indictment of the UK Border Agency’s systematic failure to protect some of the most vulnerable children in Britain – children whose parents have survived imprisonment, torture and rape in the countries they have fled only to find themselves under lock and key for failing to persuade the Home Office that their claim for asylum is genuine.

Children who became victims of abuse while in detention and whose voices can no longer be heard because the UK Border Agency has forcibly removed the victims from the jurisdiction of the UK justice system.

It is a harrowing story, but also an alarming account of institutional collusion, cover up and lying which reveals the complete lack of accountability of Britain’s highly profitable outsourced security state and the politicians and civil servants who are still bent on serving and protecting it.

The appalling Rochdale sexual abuse scandal prompted long-overdue scrutiny of our children’s homes. Another national disgrace ripe for exposure is the UK Border Agency’s serial and repugnant oppression and abuse of vulnerable children over more than a decade. Today OurKingdom publishes Clare Sambrook’s exposé of the Border Agency’s abuse of children and its relentless misrepresentation of evidence of harm. We call upon Parliament to hold ministers, the Home Office and its ugly agency to account. (The material that follows is distressing.)

Lunchtime at Yarl’s Wood

Sunday, 20 September 2009, the UK Border Agency’s Yarl’s Wood detention centre run by commercial contractors Serco.

A woman enters a room and finds a five-year-old child inserting his finger into another five-year-old’s anus, moving it backwards and forwards.

The little boy whose anus has been penetrated tells his mother that one of the other boy’s much older brothers has done this to him several times before. He complains of pain in his bottom, has become emotionally distant, will not let his mother touch him.

A GP employed by Serco does not examine the boy internally, concludes that his bottom is sore because he has scratched it, says psychological effects are a matter of “wait and see”. Bedfordshire children’s services decide not to take the matter further.

There is no investigation of the young people who might have sexually abused the little boys, or of whether they might pose a continuing threat to other children within the detention centre.

The mother’s pleas for a specialist’s opinion, for therapeutic help for her son, for an independent investigation, are all refused.

The Border Agency’s so-called “Children’s Champion”, whose job is to protect and promote children’s welfare and safety, fails to intervene. The Children’s Society, a Church of England charity that provides welfare services to Yarl’s Wood families, also fails to act. Mother and son are rapidly transferred out of Yarl’s Wood and removed from Britain.

A special culture

Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of this story, which is fully documented as we shall see, is that it holds so few surprises for people familiar with the Border Agency’s special culture.

Paediatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists and child welfare experts who have exposed inconvenient truths have seen their work and reputation traduced by Border Agency officials. Their advice has been ignored, summarily dismissed, even derided. Viable alternatives to detention offered by reputable experts have been ignored. Parliament has been repeatedly misled.

Doctors, nurses and charities who step inside the culture may forget their critical faculties, their moral compass and professional ethics.

This dossier highlights just some of the Border Agency’s attempts to misrepresent evidence that children, including the sexually abused little boy, have been harmed in its care. It follows the pattern of misrepresentation and denial all the way to the current “compassionate approach” to child detention — a practice that continues despite the Coalition promise to end it.

An exciting growth market

For the Agency’s commercial partners, security companies G4S, Serco and the rest, immigration detention is one growth market within an “exciting” outsourcing boom, grounded in cosy relations with ministers and civil servants.

The Labour government’s aggressive acceleration of the detention policy in 2001 gave the security industry new opportunities to extract profit from every step of the process: arrest, transport, detention, removal — even healthcare and social work within the rapidly expanding “detention estate”.

From its opening in 2001, Yarl’s Wood detention centre was run for profit, first by GSL, part of what is now the world’s biggest security company G4S,* later by service company Serco.

The Border Agency and its commercial contractors set about the raiding and detention of families with remarkable enthusiasm and disregard for children’s welfare, detaining up to 2000 children a year in prison-like conditions, sometimes for weeks and months on end, against all professional advice.

The Home Office and its Agency brushed aside repeated warnings fromsuccessive European Union Human Rights Commissioners and repeated recommendations from the HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP), urging over years that the detention of children should happen only in exceptional circumstances, and decisions must be based on “independent and immediate welfare and needs assessments of each child.”

For the border control mind, and commercial contractors’ culture rooted in the cash transit business (G4S), and transport and maintenance (Serco), “children’s welfare” has proved an inscrutable concept.

An HMIP team visiting Yarl’s Wood in the Spring of 2005 found three children who had been detained immediately before their GCSE exams and one autistic five year old so distressed she had not eaten for five days.

England’s first Children’s Commissioner, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, called repeatedly for detention to cease, saying that nothing in his 30-year career as a children’s doctor prepared him for his first visit to Yarl’s Wood.

His first report, An announced visit to Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre 31st October 2005” records that none of the children he encountered had any idea why they were locked up. Many had been in Britain for years or were born here. One boy in school uniform had been snatched with his mother as he was about to catch his school bus, with no opportunity to say goodbye to his classmates. The children were subjected to body searches, sometimes several times a day. Three had been locked up for more than 57 days.

Handcuffs in hospital

The security industry’s priorities, culture and clout shine in a chilling “Memorandum of Understanding” struck in 2005 between Yarl’s Wood’s managers, GSL, and Bedford Hospital which empowered GSL to handcuff children who needed hospital care. The document (in my possession), which defines a child as “a human being up to the age of 18”, permits GSL escorts to overrule medical objections to the handcuffing of child patients. If doctors or nurses persist in objecting, GSL escorts may insist the cuffs stayed on, pending a decision from a higher authority, namely the GSL Duty Shift Manager who would rule on whether the cuffs stayed on or not, or whether to delay medical treatment “until alternative security measures can be put in place”.

“For staff in general the centre is like a human clearing house,” Yarl’s Wood chaplain Larry Wright told a team from HM Inspectorate of Prisons who visited the detention centre in February 2006. Their report, Inquiry into the quality of health care at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre”, published in October 2006, found multiple healthcare inadequacies, compounded by the Border Agency’s “unresponsiveness . . . to clinical concerns about an alleged history of torture or adverse medical consequences of continued detention.”

When clinical concerns were raised, the Inspectors found, “the information was not systematically addressed or actioned. Nor was independent medical opinion sought or adhered to.”

HM Prisons Inspectorate urged the government quickly to transfer responsibility for detention centre healthcare from the Home Office to the National Health Service. A very important recommendation, since the Home Office’s behaviour towards people in its care was plainly distorted by its over-riding concern to police national borders.

Serco took over the running of Yarl’s Wood (including healthcare) from GSL in April 2007 with an eight-year contract valued at “around £85 million”.

That same year, under pressure, the government instructed the Border Agency to require all staff dealing with children to undergo mandatory training in child safeguarding. Instead of commissioning an independent, accredited provider, the Agency’s “Children’s Champion” turned to unaccredited G4S. Since then, without any independent scrutiny or evaluation, G4S has trained 7,800 UKBA personnel in “keeping children safe”.**

Wholly inaccurate” records of child detainees

Children were anything but safe. In February 2008 HM Inspectorate of Prisonslearned that some children detained time and again had been locked up for a cumulative 275 days. “Wholly inaccurate” official figures had calculated their cumulative totals at 14 and 17 days.

Visiting Yarl’s Wood again, in May 2008, Children’s Commissioner Sir Al Aynsley-Green found that Children’s physical and mental health rarely appears to inform the decision to maintain detention,” and medical assessments were poor.

In his report on the visit, published in April 2009, Aynsley-Green notes that one mother locked up at Yarl’s Wood was a victim of torture with “a severe depressive illness” and “auditory hallucinations”, yet her two-year-old son was assessed by detention centre medical staff as just a “happy boy”. The mother “was prescribed anti-depressants and put on suicide watch in the light of three suicide attempts. Yet no mental health support was provided, nor was an assessment of her parenting abilities conducted.” Aynsley-Green repeated his call for child detention to end.

Roll calls, body searches, sex games

The first peer-reviewed clinical study of children locked up at Yarl’s Wood,The mental and physical health difficulties of children held within a British immigration detention center,” appeared in the medical journal “Child Abuse & Neglect” in October 2009.

The authors, Lorek et al, a team of NHS paediatricians and a clinical psychologist, recorded children’s “increased fear due to being suddenly placed in a facility resembling a prison”, their weight loss, headaches and tummy pains, their clinical depression and anxiety, the trouble they had sleeping, how older children were so stressed they wet their beds and soiled their pants.

The Lorek team described the body searches, the photographing and the fingerprinting of the children, the roll calls, the ID cards they had to carry at all times, the ten locked doors between freedom and the family centre, the steep deterioration in parents’ mental health and parenting abilities, the self-harm and the suicide attempts.

And the sex games. One father, “spontaneously complained that he had found his daughter in the centre without any clothes on. His child explained that she had been encouraged to undress and play ‘sex games’ instigated by another detained child.”

Another mother, “spontaneously commented on the sexualized behavior of children within the center”.

The doctors wrote: “The high levels of mental and physical health difficulties detected support the view that detention, even for short periods of time, is detrimental and not appropriate for children.”

(One of the authors speaks about their findings on the BBC here.)

The study was sent to members of the parliamentary Home Affairs Committee ahead of their visit to Yarl’s Wood on 15 October 2009 in the course of their inquiry into the detention of children in the immigration system. (The committee’s duties include scrutinising the Border Agency’s work). Committee chairman Keith Vaz MP later reported to the House: “Our visit was somewhat marred by the Home Office officials’ terrible anxiety about the Select Committee visit.”

What the Border Agency did next is quite shocking.

An ex-policeman assesses the medical evidence

The Agency’s director responsible for children and their welfare, the curiously entitled “Director of Criminality and Detention”, Dave Wood, decided to offer his own assessment of the clinical evidence.

Dave Wood is not a paediatrician or a child psychologist. He is a former Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner who led the Met’s Anti-Corruption Squad as Detective Chief Superintendent. (He gave evidence to theIndependent Police Complaints Commission’s 2006 inquiry allegations of police corruption in the Stephen Lawrence murder investigation.)

In September 2009, in oral evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, Wood had said that although absconding wasn’t an issue — “it’s not terribly easy for a family unit to abscond” — families should be locked up anyway, because the lack of detention, “would act as a significant magnet and pull to families from abroad”.

In a memo to the Home Affairs Committee, dated November 2009, Wood set out to be “helpful” and “provide some further details in response to concern you may have about the contents of the [Lorek] report.”

The study, he claimed, “was undertaken without any reference to the UK Border Agency or its clinicians. At no point were healthcare or centre staff, who would have known the children, asked for their views or comments. A number of criticisms are therefore made without any corroborated evidence, or with any opportunity for the centre to comment.”

(Here is Wood on local BBC TV again asserting that the doctors failed to discuss their research).

This was demonstrably false. Lorek’s peer-reviewed study clearly demonstrates their contact with Yarl’s Wood clinicians; indeed the Lorek team’s psychologist had recommended that five parents should be “assessed by a psychiatrist as a matter of urgency due to the severity of their mental health difficulties and the level of risk”.

Meetings the Agency claimed did not happen

What’s more, Home Office documents (in my possession) record that two of the authors presented their research to Border Agency officials in a roundtable discussion held at the office of the Children’s Commissioner for England on 19 June 2007, during which Jeremy Oppenheim, the Border Agency’s then “Children’s Champion” invited the doctors to make a further presentation inside Yarl’s Wood.

And they did, at a formal meeting on 27 September 2007 entitled “Meeting to Discuss Health Impacts of Detention on Children”.

The 26 invitees listed on another Home Office document (in my possession) include Serco healthcare staff, Bedfordshire County Council Social Workers, a representative of security company G4S, the Border Agency’s Chief Immigration Officer Fiona Jack, its “Children’s Champion”, its Deputy Director of Enforcement Policy Stephanie Hutchinson-Hudson, its Head of Detention Brian Pollett and its Assistant Director, Detention Special Policy Unit, Simon Barrett.

According to the Home Office Agenda, at 10.10 am, after an introduction from the “Children’s Champion”, two of the authors, Dr Lorek and Dr Nesbitt, gave a presentation entitled, “Physical and Mental Health Difficulties of children within a UK Immigration Detention Centre”.

The Home Affairs Committee’s report, The Detention of Children in the Immigration System was published on 29 November 2009. It completely ignored the Lorek study.

It is hard to understand this significant omission. Perhaps MPs on the committee simply accepted Wood’s assertion that the study “was undertaken without any reference to the UK Border Agency or its clinicians.” It seems that they did not challenge him. But even if what he alleged were true, the weight of Lorek et al’s professional assessment surely ought to have commanded the respect of the committee and formed part of their report.

Still, the evidence of harm to children did not stay buried long.

Royal Colleges exhume evidence of harm

On 10 December 2009 The Royal College of General Practitioners, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Royal College of Psychiatrists and the UK Faculty of Public Health issued a joint statement drawing upon Lorek et al’s evidence and urging the government to stop detaining children “without delay”.

Until detention stops, said the Colleges, detained children and young people should be referred immediately to Local Authority children’s social care as “children at risk of significant harm”. No child or young person with mental health problems or at risk of developing them should be detained. The Colleges, echoing urgent advice from HM Inspectorate of Prisons a full three years before, urged the government to put detention centre healthcare into the hands of the National Health Service and not the Home Office.

The Colleges’ widely publicised statement was backed by the Royal College of Nursing, the Association of Child Psychotherapists, British Association of Social Workers, the British Psychological Society and the UK Council for Psychotherapy.

But it cut no ice at the Border Agency, whose Director of Criminality and Detention Dave Wood assured The GuardianTreating children with care and compassion is a priority. Families at Yarl’s Wood should get the same level of care available on the NHS, and they do.”

On 14 December 2009, the Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael asked the Labour government when it would stop detaining children. He said: “The report published last week by the coalition of the royal medical colleges made it clear that children who are detained in immigration removal centres suffer from mental health problems and consider self-harm and occasionally even suicide.”

Minister Meg Hillier, briefed by officials a few days previously, parrotted the Border Agency’s false claim about Lorek et al’s research:

“Let me point out that the report in question . . . did not take into account the views of the clinicians who worked with those children and who know them.”

And so, again, medical evidence of children’s suffering was misrepresented and dismissed, and again Parliament was misled.

Security industry nurses see “jolly happy children”

Amid continuing grave concern about medical ethics and competence inside the “detention estate”, the Royal Colleges had reminded practitioners working for the Border Agency and its commercial contractors of the basic competencies of their craft — history-taking, examination, investigation, treatment, referral and record-keeping, and of their legal duty to declare children unfit to be detained where detention appears detrimental to their mental health or wellbeing.

Nurses employed by Serco at Yarl’s Wood routinely described child detainees in medical notes as “jolly” and “happy”, according to the third and final report on Yarl’s Wood from Sir Al Aynsley-Green in February 2010 (“The Children’s Commissioner for England’s follow up report to: the arrest and detention of children subject to immigration control”).

The father of a 12-year-old girl told the Children’s Commissioner’s team that she had been arrested, beaten, sexually abused and humiliated by Nigerian soldiers. On admission to Yarl’s Wood she was mute, refusing food for seven days. About one Yarl’s Wood child whose mother had been raped in Africa and was hepatitis B positive, Serco nurses wrote under family history, “nil of note”.

The Children’s Commissioner, an eminent paediatrician, reported that the Border Agency continued to send children unvaccinated to areas where TB is prevalent and measles and malaria endemic. More than a year after he had suggested it, the provision of bed nets was “still under consideration”. Aynsley-Green repeated his call for child detention to cease.

A covert attack on the Children’s Commissioner

The Border Agency had read the Children’s Commissioner’s report in advance of publication. Yet again, its response to expert medical advice was to go on the attack.

The Home Office press office circulated an unattributable and defamatory advance note to journalists, undermining the integrity of Aynsley-Green and his work. That extraordinary note, which invented inaccuracies in the report and then knocked them down, can be found here on page 13 of my own Parliamentary submission on official lying.

The black-ops briefing got results: Aynsley-Green’s February 2010 report was arguably under-reported in the media. And the Border Agency carried on misleading.

Agency officials and their commercial partners Serco gave a positive, upbeat presentation about children’s experience of detention to Bedford Borough Council’s Children’s Services Committee on 23 February 2010, assuring committee members that the Children’s Commissioner’s report contained “issues” that were “unsupported or factually incorrect”.

But inconvenient evidence of distress and physical damage kept on piling up. In March 2010 the government published Baroness Nuala O’Loan’s independent inquiry into evidence of widespread abuse of asylum detainees, including children, at the hands of Border Agency escort contractors, including G4S. The abuses had been documented in the 2008 Medical Justice reportOutsourcing Abuse. O’Loan’s inquiry found that there was “inadequate management of the use of force by the private sector companies”; she made 22 recommendations for change.

Readers might by now be able to guess what the Border Agency did next.

In a foreword to O’Loan’s report, Border Agency chief executive Lin Homer attacked the doctors and lawyers who had brought the abuses to light, accusing them of “seeking to damage the reputation of our contractors”.

Leaving aside the defamatory nature of Homer’s allegation against the doctors and lawyers, it is the case that “reputational risk” is a commercial matter and the proper concern of the companies themselves, their executives, directors and shareholders — not for the Home Office.

Only months after the Border Agency had dismissed the evidence of abuse by escort contractors, a previously healthy man called Jimmy Mubenga diedduring a form of “restraint” by private escorters G4S exposed as dangerous inOutsourcing Abuse.

The sexually abused little boy is not totally forgotten

The little boy sexually assaulted over and over again during his weeks locked up at Yarl’s Wood in the autumn of 2009 might have been forgotten by the Border Agency, its contractors and the resident children’s charity. But somebody else had found out about him.

The Children’s Commissioner’s team, in their review of the detention centre medical notes, had spotted the little boy’s horrible ordeal, had noted the lack of proper investigation, that safeguarding procedures had not been followed, had noted the mother’s desperate requests for independent investigation and medical examination, and that they had all been refused.

Sir Al Aynsley-Green sent a detailed and confidential report on the case to Bedford Borough Council, the UK Border Agency, Serco and Bedfordshire Local Safeguarding Children Board, whose Serious Case Review Panel commissioned an independent investigation in October 2009. The panel decided that “a legally qualified person, independent of all the participating agencies” should conduct the Review, and appointed a barrister and mental health review tribunal judge in December 2009, causing real anxiety to Border Agency executives and their commercial partners, Serco. The profitable business of locking up families at Yarl’s Wood, which served as a useful deterrent in border control, was in jeopardy.

Only weeks ahead of the 2010 General Election, and before the independent investigation had made its findings public, the Home Office handed Serco a £32 million contract, without competition, to carry on running Yarl’s Wood for three more years.

The Coalition Agreement of 12 May 2010 promised to end the detention of children, but instead of immediately ending it, immigration minister Damian Green said on 15 May that he was “launching a comprehensive review of alternatives to child detention, including opening a dialogue with relevant stakeholders, organisations and experts.”

To lead this Review, a legally qualified person, independent of all the participating agencies was not appointed. Damian Green turned instead to the Border Agency’s own Director of Criminality and Detention Dave Wood, who would co-chair a “working group” of invited civil society and voluntary sector groups. The other co-chair was the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund to whom besieged Border Agency executives had turned for help in the anxious months ahead of the General Election. The Fund’s representative, Patrick Wintour (founder of the Employability Forum), had engaged in private pre-election talks over months with officials — including chief executive Lin Homer, deputy chief executive Jonathan Sedgwick, the latest “Children’s Champion” Kristian Armstrong, and Dave Wood.

The Review started work formally on 1 June 2010. (Its terms of reference arehere.) Immigration minister Damian Green told Parliament on 17 June: “We are carrying out the review as fast as humanly possible, so that the detention of children for immigration purposes can end and a practical alternative be put in its place.”

That might have been Damian Green’s intention, but it was no part of the Border Agency’s plan.

A shameful account of institutional incompetence

On 14 June 2010 the Bedfordshire Local Safeguarding Children Board released an executive summary of the independent investigative report into the case of child sexual abuse that had been so disgracefully mishandled. The investigators found that the Border Agency, the Agency’s “Children’s Champion”, its independent social workers, Serco’s medical staff and social workers, Bedford Borough Council’s children’s services and the local police had all failed in their duties to safeguard children in the Border Agency’s care.

What’s more, Border Agency officials had — yet again —misrepresented evidence that children were being harmed and being put at risk of harm. The Bedfordshire independent inquiry found that executives misled ministers about the safeguarding shambles that failed the little boy, and that ministers, relying on the Agency’s misinformation, decided to carry on detaining children:

“UKBA provided information, on the basis of which a ministerial decision was made affecting the continued detention of children. Although that factual information included reference to the incident leading to this review, there was no evaluation of the impact that this incident had on the propriety of detention.”

Malcolm Stevens, a former lead Children’s Services Inspector with the government’s Social Services Inspectorate, described the findings as “a shameful account of institutional incompetence”.

Commenting in The Daily Telegraph on 18 June 2010, Stevens urged the government to “reconsider the wisdom of its decision to repeat the error of the previous government in allowing the organisation most culpable – the UK Border Agency – to lead its current review of services for children in detention.”

He went on: “From the recommendations of this review, if there is one thing on earth that Border Agency should not do, it is that.”

But the government did not reconsider, and the Border Agency carried on leading the Review, with thoroughly predictable consequences:

“All summer, the
UKBA made it plain that they were not willing to give up the power to detain children, as part of the policy of ending the detention of children,” said one participant, Syd Bolton, co-director of the Refugee Children’s Rights Project, Children’s Legal Centre.

“In the many discussions about
how to end detention held with the UKBA over that review period, it was clear that the UKBA
simply would not entertain the possibility of a major plank of its border control
powers being removed.” (Bolton was speaking on 26 March 2011 at the launch of End Child Detention Now’s “Keep Your Promise” campaign.)

Rebranding child detention

What emerged from the Review was not an alternative to detention, but detention rebranded.

The Yarl’s Wood family unit closed on 16 December 2010, but the Agency has carried on locking up children at G4S Tinsley House, where a 10 year old girl had tried to strangle herself in 2009.

A new detention facility called “Cedars” opened on 17 August 2011, with a new vocabulary (“family friendly” “pre-departure accommodation”), run by a familiar security company, G4S, and with the same fundamental safeguarding flaw highlighted in the Bedfordshire Safeguarding Children Board independent report on Yarl’s Wood, namely, “a gap in regulatory arrangements . . . no single agency has an adequate overarching responsibility for regulation of services to children in immigration detention”.

G4S ‘won’ the £15 million contract to run Cedars against no competition. (The name is a government acronym for Compassion, Empathy, Dignity, Respect and Support).

Contract-hungry children’s charity Barnardo’s provides welfare services and delivers, by its presence, a reassuring endorsement. When, last year, an independent doctor asked Barnardo’s to take action about the continuing practice of sending families to danger zones without essential immunisation and malarial protection, Barnardo’s chief executive Anne Marie Carrie replied: “G4S, the UKBA contractor for the site is contracturally responsible for ensuring appropriate health services to residents at Cedars,” and she had raised his concerns with the management team.

The doctor wrote to the G4S site manager and got a reply from the Border Agency in an envelope stamped with the G4S logo; it said malarial protection was a matter for the families and those who “have not arranged any malaria prevention will be provided with an information leaflet”.

A so-called “Independent Family Returns Panel” guards children’s welfare.One of its members is Dr John W. Keen, who has advised the Border Agency for years, and whose assessment of a vulnerable patient was deemed “irrational” and “tainted” by the then Mr Justice Leveson in a 2006 High Court Judgement.

The Border Agency’s office of “Children’s Champion” carries on regardless of its catastrophic failure to intervene on behalf of the sexually abused little boy at Yarl’s Wood, and Border Agency staff continue to be trained in child-safeguarding by G4S.

The Department of Health assumed policy responsibility for detention centre healthcare in April 2012; the transfer of budgetary responsibility is due, “subject to legislation”, by April 2014. (Hansard)

In the first quarter of this year 53 children were reported detained, far fewer than under Labour’s 2000-per-year peak, but higher than might have been inferred from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s December 2010 forecast of“tiny numbers of cases” detained as “an absolutely last resort”.

In March 2012 Dave Wood was promoted to the post of chief operating officer of the UK Border Agency. In April, the Home Office quietly appointed aschairman of the UKBA board a career investment banker, Philip Augar (ex NatWest and Shroeders).

The narrow thread of recent history exposed here resonates beyond the hard lives of asylum-seeker families.
Security companies G4S and Serco have moved far, far beyond their security-industry base, deep into our public sector, securing massive government contracts in policing, health, education, welfare.

Senior civil servant and ministerial loyalty to “our contractors”, as revealed in this case, is a recurring phenomenon that merits further inquiry and real vigilance as Britain undergoes what the Financial Times has called “the biggest wave of outsourcing since the 1980s”.

The pattern of Border Agency behaviour unfolded here suggests a rogue organisation, shielded by the Home Office, beyond accountability to Parliament and the public. Nobody has been held to account for the misleading of ministers, Parliament and the public over years, as a direct result of which thousands of innocent and vulnerable children have been locked up to the detriment of their health and wellbeing. Relations between the Border Agency and its contractors are intimate, enduring and enmeshed. Children remain at risk of harm.

The Home Affairs Select Committee should wake up to its duties, which include scrutinising the Border Agency’s work, call its executives to account for their repeated denial of evidence of children’s suffering, and urge the government to bring about a real and honourable end to child detention.


This document is also available in PDF format.

With huge thanks to Martin Rowson for his specially designed cartoon.

————————

Notes:

GSL and G4S

GSL was part of Group 4 Falck, the huge Danish security company that merged with Securicor in July 2004 to create Group 4 Securicor, rebranded in 2006 as G4S.

In June 2004, just ahead of the merger, Group 4 Falck sold GSL to its management in a £207 million deal backed by private equity firms. Then, in December 2007, G4S bought it back again (for £355 million).

G4S chief executive Nick Buckles told the Financial Times in December 2007 that GSL had been sold “to ease the progress of the merger as there would otherwise have been competition issues over prisoner transportation.” GSL, he said, would now “slot neatly into the next stage of G4S’s strategy to focus on long-term government contracts.”

** The UK Border Agency and “Keeping children safe”

Thanks to pressure from the first Children’s Commissioner for England and HM Inspectorate of Prisons, among others repeatedly highlighting multiple deficiencies in the Border Agency’s treatment of vulnerable children over years, mandatory training in child safeguarding for all Border Agency staff in contact with children has been required since 2007.

That was enshrined in the statutory guidance to section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, which gave the Border Agency a duty to promote and safeguard the welfare of children.

The equivalent statutory duty on other public bodies to safeguard children was provided by Section 11 of The Children Act 2004 following the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié, but the UK Border Agency and its predecessors resisted these duties until they were imposed on them under section 55.

Children subject to immigration control, including those held in immigration detention in the UK, were excluded from the full rights and protections of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child until November 2008 when, under great pressure, the UK withdrew most of its reservations to the Convention.

 

Bibliography:

Unpublished documents in the author’s possession:

Carrie, Anne Marie. Chief executive, Barnardo’s. Letter to Dr Frank Arnold (27 September 2011).

Foley, Gillian. Detention Services. UK Border Agency. Letter to Dr Frank Arnold. (8 November 2011).

GSL, Yarl’s Wood, and Bedford Hospital. MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING FOR CHILDREN NEEDING SERVICES AT BEDFORD HOSPITAL NHS TRUST AND YARL’S WOOD REMOVAL CENTRE JANUARY 2005. Review date: JANUARY 2006. Ray Reveley, Centre Manager, Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre; Andrew Reed, Chief Executive, Bedford Hospital NHS Trust

Home Office Border & Immigration Agency. INVITEES: MEETING TO DISCUSS THE HEALTH IMPACTS OF DETENTION ON CHILDREN WILL BE HELD AT YARLSWOOD DETENTION CENTRE ON THURSDAY 27 SEPTEMBER 2007 AT 10.00AM

Home Office Border & Immigration Agency. Letter from Joe Heatley, Professional Adviser to Border & Immigration Agency, Children’s Champion, Social Policy Directorate, 17 August 2007 RE: HEALTH IMPACTS ON CHILDREN OF FAMILY DETENTION IN YARL’S WOOD IMMIGRATION REMOVAL CENTRE

Home Office Border & Immigration Agency. AGENDA HEALTH IMPACTS OF DETENTION ON CHILDREN. THURSDAY 27TH SEPTEMBER 2007

Home Office. Press Office. Response to criticism – these are not to be attributed as direct statements. Nick Logan. (February 2010)

Public domain documents:

Aynsley-Green, Al. An announced visit to Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre 31st October 2005. London: The Office of Children’s Commissioner. (December 2005)

http://www.asylumpolicy.info/children.htm

Aynsley-Green, Al. The Arrest And Detention of Children Subject to Immigration Control: A report following the Children’s Commissioner for England’s visit to Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre 16 May 2008 (April 2009)

http://mighealth.net/uk/images/c/c9/Aynsley.pdf

Aynsley-Green, Al. The Children’s Commissioner for England’s follow up report to: The Arrest And Detention of Children Subject to Immigration Control. Visit to Yarl’s Wood October 2009 (February 2010)

http://www.jrseurope.org/publications/di550e08psxhlc9f3mmrlqwd.pdf

Aynsley-Green, Al. Speedy end to child detention is needed. The promised review must not be an excuse for civil service prevarication – the welfare of children has to come first. guardian.co.uk (23 May 2010)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/2010/may/23/child-detention-review

Bedford Borough Council: Minutes for Children’s Services Policy Review and Development Committee meeting, Feb 23 2010, 6.30PM. (23 February 2010)

http://openlylocal.com/documents/26034-Minutes-for-Children-s-Services-Policy-Review-and-Development-Committee-meeting-Feb-23-2010-6-30PM

Bedfordshire Local Safeguarding Children Board. Independent Review.Executive Summary. Child A and Child B Placed with Family at Immigration Removal Centre (June 2010)http://www.bedfordshirelscb.org.uk/pro_files/executivesummaryforchildaandchildbindependentreviewfinalversion090610unprotected(2).pdf

Bercow et al. Alternatives to immigration detention of families and children. A discussion paper by John Bercow MP, Lord Dubs and Evan Harris MP for the All Party Parliamentary Groups on Children and Refugees (July 2006)

http://www.medicaljustice.org.uk/images/stories/reports/alternativestodetention.pdf

Bolton, Syd. Co-director of the Refugee Children’s Rights Project, Children’s Legal Centre. Launch of End Child Detention Now’s “Keep Your Promise” campaign. Oxford House, Bethnal Green, London, (26 March 2011)

http://ecdn.org/2011/04/12/where-now-for-the-campaign-to-end-child-detention/

Green, Damian. Immigration minister. Letter to Keith Vaz, MP, chairman, Home Affairs Select Committee, on UK Border Agency and Border Force governance and the appointment of investment banker Philip Augar as chairman of the UKBA board. (6 June 2012)

http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/home-affairs/120606-Damian-Green-to-Chair.pdf

Burstow, Paul. Written Answer to Question from Simon Kirby MP on transfer of detention estate healthcare to the NHS. (31 January 2012)

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201212/cmhansrd/cm120131/text/120131w0001.htm#120131143001808

Carmichael, Alistair. Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael. “The report published last week by the coalition of the royal medical colleges made it clear that children who are detained in immigration removal centres suffer from mental health problems and consider self-harm and occasionally even suicide.” House of Commons. Oral Answers to Questions. Home Department. (14 December 2009)

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmhansrd/cm091214/debtext/91214-0001.htm

Clegg, Nick. Speech. Nick Clegg confirms end to child detention (16 Dec 2010) Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg this morning announced that child detention for immigration purposes is to end.http://www.libdems.org.uk/speeches_detail.aspx?title=Nick_Clegg_confirms_end_to_child_detention_%28full_speech%29&pPK=d73b587e-f837-4b16-b7d5-a14b1bfa8a9b

Coalition Agreement reached by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats (12 May 2010)

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8677933.stm

Crawley, Heaven. Ending the Detention of Children: Developing an Alternative Approach to Family Returns. Centre for Migration Policy Research (CMPR), Swansea University. (June 2010)

http://www.swansea.ac.uk/media/Alternatives_to_child_detention.pdf

Green, Damian. Immigration minister. Interview. BBC Radio Scotland. 14 June 2012.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10309237

Green, Damian. Immigration minister. “We are carrying out the review as fast as humanly possible, so that the detention of children for immigration purposes can end and a practical alternative be put in its place.” Westminster Hall. Alternatives to Child Detention (17 June 2010)

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm100617/halltext/100617h0001.htm

Gil-Robles, E. Report by Elvaro Gil-Robles, Commissioner for Human Rights on his visit to the United Kingdom 4th–12th November 2004, CommDH (2005). Strasbourg: Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights.

https://wcd.coe.int/ViewDoc.jsp?id=865235&Site=COE

Griggs, Tom. G4S recaptures prison operator in £355m deal. Financial Times (19 December 2007)

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/de6ba690-adc0-11dc-9386-0000779fd2ac.html#axzz1ywEfCGL4

Hammarberg, Thomas (2008). Memorandum by Thomas Hammarberg, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe Following his visits to the United Kingdom on 5-8 February and 31 March-2 April 2008, CommDH. Strasbourg: Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights. (18 September 2008)

https://wcd.coe.int/ViewDoc.jsp?id=1339037&Site=CommDH&BackColorInternet=FEC65B&BackColorIntranet=FEC65B&BackColorLogged=FFC679

HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP). Report on an announced inspection of Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre 28 February – 4 March 2005 by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/publications/hmipris/immigration-removal-centre-inspections/yarls-wood/yarls_wood_26405_final_edit-rps.pdf

HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP). Inquiry into the quality of healthcare at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre (20-24 February 2006) by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons.

http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/publications/hmipris/immigration-removal-centre-inspections/yarls-wood/yarls_wood_inquiry_final-rps.pdf

HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP). Report on an announced inspection of Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre (4-8 February 2008) by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/publications/hmipris/immigration-removal-centre-inspections/yarls-wood/yarls_wood_2008-rps.pdf

More HMIP reports on Yarl’s Wood here.

Hillier, Meg. Labour Home Office minister. The Lorek report “did not take into account the views of the clinicians who worked with those children and who know them.” House of Commons. Oral Answers to Questions. Home Department. (14 December 2009)

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmhansrd/cm091214/debtext/91214-0001.htm

Home Office UK Border Agency. Review into the Ending of the Detention of Children for Immigration Purposes. Terms of Reference. (1 June 2010)

http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/documents/policyandlaw/consultations/26-end-child-detention/terms-of-reference.pdf?view=Binary

Homer Lin, UKBA chief executive. Response to Medical Justice. “State Sponsored Cruelty”. Children in immigration detention. September 2010, said UKBA took the needs of “vulnerable individuals seeking asylum in the UK, and in particular the need to safeguard and protect the wellbeing of children”, very seriously.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/sep/09/detention-children-immigration-centres

Homer Lin, UKBA chief executive. “seeking to damage the reputation of our contractors”. Foreword to O’Loan (March 2010) p1.

House of Commons Home Affairs Committee. The Detention of Children in the Immigration System. First Report of Session 2009–10 House of Commons (24 November 2009)

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmhaff/73/73.pdf

Independent Police Complaints Commission. Independent investigation into complaints following “The Boys Who Killed Stephen Lawrence” BBC Panorama 26 July 2006. (2006)

http://www.ipcc.gov.uk/documents/investigation_commissioner_reports/stephen_lawrence_final_report.pdf

Lorek et al. The mental and physical health difficulties of children held within a British immigration detention centre: A pilot study. Child Abuse and Neglect: 33: 573-585. (2009)

http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/tcs/research_docs/Yarl%27sWoodDoctor%27sReport.pdf

Medical Justice. Outsourcing abuse. The use and misuse of state-sanctioned force during the detention and removal of asylum seekers. A report by Birnberg Peirce & Partners, Medical Justice and the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (July 2008)

http://www.medicaljustice.org.uk/images/stories/reports/outsourcing%20abuse.pdf

Medical Justice. “State Sponsored Cruelty”. Children in immigration detention. Jon Burnett, Judith Carter, Jon Evershed, Maya Bell Kohli, Claire Powell, and Gervase de Wilde. 141 cases are featured in this report involving children detained between 2004 and April 2010. These children spent a mean average of 26 days each in immigration detention. One child had spent 166 days in detention, over numerous separate periods, before her third birthday. 48% of the children in this report were born in the UK. 74 children were psychologically harmed. Symptoms included bed-wetting and loss of bowel control, heightened anxiety, and food refusal. 34 children exhibited signs of developmental regression. Six children expressed suicidal ideation either whilst in detention or after release. Three girls attempted to end their own lives. (September 2010)

http://www.medicaljustice.org.uk/content/view/1420/89/

O’Loan, Nuala. REPORT TO THE UNITED KINGDOM BORDER AGENCY ON “OUTSOURCING ABUSE” by BARONESS NUALA O’LOAN DBE (March 2010)

http://www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_147177_en.pdf

Plimmer, Gill. Outsourcing set to boom as contracts surge, Financial Times. (17 June 2012)

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/7d8072aa-aa89-11e1-899d-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1yBJYMiOw

The Royal Colleges of Paediatrics and Child Health, General Practitioners and Psychiatrists and the UK Faculty of Public Health. Intercollegiate Briefing Paper: Significant Harm – the effects of immigration detention on the health of children and families in the UK. (10 December 2009)

http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/press/pressreleases2009/immigrationdetention.aspx

http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/pdf/Significant%20Harm%20intercollegiate%20statement%20Dec09.pdf

Sambrook, Clare. How Official Lying Threatens Our Democracy and What Should Be Done About It, Submission to the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications The Future of Investigative Journalism, 21 November 2011.

Committee’s report: The future of investigative journalism (16 February 2012)

http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/lords-select/communications-committee/news/a-secure-future-for-investigative-journalism—lords-report/

Sambrook’s report also published on

OurKingdom@openDemocracy (21 November 2011)

http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/How%20Official%20Lying%20Threatens%20Our%20Democracy_CS_21%20Nov_0.pdf

Sambrook, Clare. Controversial doctor and Barnardo’s serve UK’s flawed child detention policy. OurKingdom@openDemocracy (15 June, 2012)

http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/clare-sambrook/controversial-doctor-and-barnardo’s-serve-uk’s-flawed-child-detention-poli

Sambrook, Clare. G4S teaches UK Border Agency how to care for children. OurKingdom@openDemocracy (10 July, 2012)

http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/clare-sambrook/g4s-teaches-uk-border-agency-how-to-care-for-children

Serco. Contract News Update. Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre contract extension (11 May 2010)

http://www.serco.com/media/pressreleases/2010/contractnewsupdate10.asp

Stevens, Malcolm. Former lead Children’s Services Inspector with the Government’s Social Services Inspectorate. “a shameful account of institutional incompetence”. Yarl’s Wood immigration centre treated children in a shameful way. It’s clearer than ever that this centre must be closed, says Malcolm Stevens. The Daily Telegraph. (18 June 2010)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/7837282/Yarls-Wood-immigration-centre-treated-children-in-a-shameful-way.html

Vaz, Keith, “Our visit was somewhat marred by the Home Office officials’ terrible anxiety about the Select Committee visit.” Westminster Hall (17 June 2010)

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm100617/halltext/100617h0001.htm

Wood, Dave, Director of Criminality and Detention. UKBA. “Treating children with care and compassion is a priority. Families at Yarl’s Wood should get the same level of care available on the NHS, and they do.” Move children out of migrant centres say medical experts. Owen Boycott. The Guardian. (10 December 2009)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/dec/10/immigration-detention-children-mental-health

Wood, Dave, Director of Criminality and Detention. UKBA. “it’s not terribly easy for a family unit to abscond”. Examination of witnesses. Home Affairs Committee, 16 September 2009.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmselect/cmhaff/uc970-i/uc97002.htm

Wood, Dave, Director of Criminality and Detention. UKBA. “the study was undertaken without any reference to the UK Border Agency or its clinicians”. Supplementary memorandum submitted by UK Border Agency. Home Affairs Committee, November 2009.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmselect/cmhaff/970/09091611.htm

See also OurKingdom’s collections:

The scandal of child detention in the UK

http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/collections/scandal-of-child-detention-in-uk

G4S: securing whose world?

http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/collections/g4s-securing-whose-world

ECDN AT THE KESWICK FILM FESTIVAL 25th February 2012

Thanks to Keswick Peace and Human Rights Group for inviting us to work with them at the Keswick Film Festival.

Filmmaker Rachel Siefert and ECDN’s Clare Sambrook presented a screening of Rachel’s chilling film, The Kids Britain Doesn’t Want (directed by David Modell and first shown as a C4 Dispatches November 2010).

Prof Stephanie Donald (Leverhulme Trust Visiting Professor at the Centre for World Cinemas at the University of Leeds), who attended the Festival, wrote this piece, Nice Brits wouldn’t lock up children who ask for help, would they?”, for OurKingdom at openDemocracy.

G4S bars Santa from Pease Pottage children’s detention centre

Santa found his way blocked by perimeter fences, locked doors and security guards when he and three helpers from Lush attempted to deliver presents to children in the immigration detention facility at Pease Pottage (Credit: West Sussex County Times)

G4S who manage the Pease Pottage ‘pre-departure accommodation centre’ where families are forcibly held for up to a week prior to enforced removal by the UK Border Agency have refused to allow Santa to deliver Christmas gifts to the children held behind the 2.5m security fence.

The Eastbourne branch of the Lush cosmetic chain had collected luxury soaps, chocolate and toys to be taken as presents to families, but despite repeated requests, volunteers from SOAS Detainee Support Group had been barred by the centre’s managers who cited ‘health and safety and security’ reasons.

G4S staff also refused to come to the gates to accept the gifts on behalf of the families – repeating the Scrooge like stance adopted by the UK Border Agency when it refused entry to St Nicholas at the Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre two years ago.

Lush local campaigns co-ordinator Liz Snook told the West Sussex County Times: “All we’re trying to do here is give some children some presents”.

“We’re prepared to go through whatever is demanded of us, but instead we’ve been met with rudeness and flat refusal.”

“We want the families held under this frightening system to know that we’ve not forgotten them.”

The coalition government continues to claim that it has ended child detention in the United Kingdom.

Ending child detention – the most achievable human rights goal?

TOM SANDERSON, THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE ICHRP BLOG ON 28 NOVEMBER 2011

Human rights issues are notoriously controversial. Debates rage around numerous issues, not least the validity and universality of human rights themselves. However, the detention of children for immigration purposes stands out as one human rights issue for which there is a remarkable extent of consensus, in both the damage it causes and the need for action to bring it to an end.

Several studies have shown beyond doubt the severe psychological damage and physical danger that child detention leads to, even where that detention is for very short periods of time. Such studies have been reported in the British Journal Child Abuse and Neglect, and Australian psychiatric journals. Numerous accounts have been reported of children self-harming and attempting suicide in detention centres in the UK alone, while other reports identify the mental health problems that can occur in later life as a result of periods of detention.

These are children, we must remember, who have committed no offence and broken no law. The only reason for their detention is that their parents have applied for asylum in our country. Furthermore, it is widely accepted that among undocumented migrants, children and families with children are some of the least likely candidates for absconding. Even David Wood of the UKBA admitted this to the Home Affairs Select Committee back in 2009.

The campaign group ‘End Child Detention Now’ is one of a huge number of groups working on this issue just in the UK. Many more provide similar opposition across Europe and indeed the world. Here, we have had assurances from the UK coalition government that the practice that Deputy PM Nick Clegg has called ‘state-sponsored cruelty’ would end.

So, given this widespread opposition to the practice and general agreement from those in power, it is surprising that entirely innocent children can still be detained in the UK, due only to the arbitrary lottery of nationality. While the government has taken some action to reduce the practice, there is no real end in sight.

Government promises count for little, as we have seen first-hand. This is why a concerted effort must be made to apply as much pressure as possible during the Ministerial Level meeting of all UN member states at the UNHCR in Geneva next month. This meeting is taking place to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the 1961 Refugee Convention, on the 7th and 8th December, and it is a perfect opportunity to convince our governments to make international commitments to ending child detention.

Further action:
The International Detention Coalition is running a letter-writing campaign in coordination with the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, and Amnesty International, and you can find out more about this here. They have a template letter, adaptable to your organisation and national situation, which can be downloaded here.

Glasgow Unity in bid to halt dawn raids re-starting in Scotland

Earlier this week Glasgow Unity held a successful day-long protest outside the Border Agency Enforcement Unit at Brand Street to protest against the arrest and removal of Govan family Funke Olubiyi and her five year old son Joseph to the Home Office’s new family detention centre near Crawley in Sussex. To loud chants of ‘end child detention now’ activists ‘locked on’ outside the gates of the reporting centre and a protester took several hours for police to remove from a tripod while supporters from the national coalition of anti-deportation committees kept up the vigil.

Govan & Craigton Integration Network drop-in, and GCIN members are shocked and angry that their friend has been treated in this way. Terrorised in their home, then detained and deported within a week with no chance to gather their possessions, or say goodbye to their friends, let alone mount any kind of legal challenge.

This is the real face of the Tory coalition government’s ‘family friendly’ approach to the treatment of asylum seekers.