Family wins £100,000 for detention ordeal
Bolivian asylum seekers were falsely imprisoned and children traumatised after being held at centre.
Esther Addley, The Guardian, Friday 29 January 2010.
A refugee has won a settlement of £100,000 from the Home Office after it admitted falsely imprisoning her and her children at an immigration detention centre.
Carmen Quiroga, originally from Bolivia, spent 42 days at Oakington detention centre in Cambridgeshire with her son and three daughters, aged between three and 11, in what her solicitor describes as “appalling conditions” that were unsuitable for children, and despite the fact that a judicial review into her asylum plea was continuing for much of that period.
On one occasion Quiroga was struck by a contracted security guard when she failed to maintain eye contact, as the children looked on
In what is thought to be one of the highest payments for a case of this nature, the high court today approved the settlement, offered as compensation for the unlawful detention in 2004 and for serious psychological injuries that it accepted the children had suffered. Such was the distress they experienced that six years later the family have required “significant psychiatric help” to overcome it.
Quiroga’s solicitors had argued that the detention was illegal because it was not used as a last resort, the welfare of the children was not given priority, the use of force in detaining the family was “entirely disproportionate” and the family were held for almost a month even after the judicial review process was launched. They also alleged that the family had suffered inhuman and degrading treatment in contravention of the European convention on human rights.
Quiroga, 36, remains too traumatised to talk publicly about the circumstances of “appalling violence” that forced her to flee Bolivia in 2002 or about the situation of the children’s father, but the family have all since been granted British passports.
Speaking exclusively to the Guardian this week, Quiroga said: “This case was about being heard, and it’s in this way that [I hope] what happened to me won’t happen to other people.” The trauma, she said, “is not something you are inventing. You feel it, you live it, and it’s there all the time.” Part of the settlement was an agreement by the Home Office to outline to Quiroga the steps it has taken to prevent the abuse recurring for other families.
Quiroga applied for asylum as soon as she arrived in Britain in 2002, but after her initial claim and appeal were refused, the latter without her knowledge, the family were forced from their beds on the morning of 21 October 2004 by police and security guards, given an hour to pack and then bundled in a police van and taken without explanation to Oakington, which at the time Quiroga thought was a prison.
The family’s solicitors, Bhatt Murphy, argued that they had suffered verbal abuse and threats from detention centre staff, were denied access to medicines and appropriate children’s food and, during two unsuccessful attempts to deport them by plane, were threatened with violence.
On one occasion Quiroga was struck by a contracted security guard when she failed to maintain eye contact, as the children looked on. They were freed on bail in December 2004, 28 days after a judicial review of the appeal decision had been launched, and awarded British nationality four years later.
Quiroga sought psychiatric help after seeing her youngest daughter strip-searching and abusing her dolls, imitating the behaviour she witnessed at Oakington.
Sarah Campbell, research and policy manager at Bail for Immigration Detainees, a charity that provides legal support to people in Quiroga’s position, said the “shocking” case demonstrated the serious harm caused to children by detention.
“We regularly see the horrendous effects detention has on children many of the children we work with experience depression, weight loss and even self-harm.”
She said there is no evidence that locking up children is helpful in immigration control, added: “The fact that this family had an ongoing legal case while in detention, and were eventually granted status to remain, raises very serious questions about why they were detained at all.”