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ECDN and the Jewish Chronicle: A Clarification

End Child Detention Now has not and does not discourage specific groups from working with other campaigns (Asylum groups warn Jewish community over London Citizens, Jewish Chronicle on 10 June). The quote mentioned in the Jewish Chronicle article was taken from an online article published in openDemocracy (and re-published on ecdn.org) and we would be glad to offer any organisations mentioned in the original piece a right of reply if they feel we have misquoted or misrepresented them. For the record, since its launch in 2009, ECDN has worked closely with a number of faith and non-faith groups in the common cause of ending child detention in the United Kingdom. Sadly, despite having promised to stop it, the current government plans to continue the practice of detaining children and their families as part of an entirely unnecessary and draconian policy of immigration control. We look forward to working with all opponents of this unsafe, unlawful and cruel practice until it is genuinely ended.

Let Down on Child Detention

BID and The Children’s Society’s recent report ‘Last resort or first resort?’ sounds a warning bell about the Government’s controversial policy of holding children and families in immigration detention.

[This article originally appeared on The Migrants’ Rights Network website]

Sarah Campbell

Sarah Campbell is a Research and Policy Manager at Bail for Immigration Detainees (www.biduk.org). She previously worked at the Fawcett Society, a women’s rights organisation, where she led the organisation’s lobbying work on gender-based violence and poverty. She was also previously a Research Associate at Kings College London, where she carried out research on workplace discrimination.

The report examines the cases of 82 families with 143 children who were detained in order to be forcibly removed from the UK during 2009. Its findings make for worrying reading, and raise very serious questions about the Home Office’s decisions to detain these families.

[Read the report Last Resort or First Resort?]

In the vast majority of these cases, families were detained despite there being little risk of them absconding. There were often barriers to the families returning to their countries of origin during the time they were detained, which meant it was not possible, lawful or in the children’s best interests for the Home Office to forcibly remove them.

In three cases, families were actually put on flights and forcibly removed from the UK, only to be flown back when it became clear that their were legal or documentation barriers to their removal. 61% of the families in our study were eventually released back into the community, their detention having served no purpose.

We also found that safeguards which were intended to protect children’s welfare were ineffective. In one case, a mother refused over 60 meals while in detention, and reported that her son witnessed the aftermath of a suicide attempt by another detainee. Reviews of the family’s detention stated that there were ‘no concerns’ for the family’s well-being and ‘no medical issues’. Six months after the family’s release, this child was still receiving counselling as a result of mental health problems he developed in detention.

At BID, we have for years been representing families who have been subjected to this type of appalling treatment by the Home Office, and campaigning for an end to the immigration detention of children. We were therefore delighted when, in May 2010, the coalition government announced that they would stop detaining children.

However, we were extremely disappointed by subsequent announcements that children will in fact continue to be detained for up to seven days at a time. While the new limit of seven days is clearly an improvement on the previous situation where children were detained without any time limit, experience shows that arrest and detention, even for short periods, can cause extreme distress to children. For example, the Guardian reported on a ten year old girl who was detained in 2009 attempted suicide three days after her arrest.

Furthermore, there has been no serious effort made by the Home Office to address the systemic problems which can lead to families ending up in detention – such as poor decision-making on asylum and immigration claims. Meanwhile, the Government’s plans to cut legal aid mean that it is likely to become increasingly difficult for families to access the legal representation they so badly need to properly present their immigration or asylum claims.

The Government now plans to open a new short-term holding facility for families in Sussex. Critics estimate that up to 6,500 children could be detained in this facility every year. The Government claims that only small numbers of families will be detained there, ‘as a last resort’ – an all too familiar refrain for those of us who have long campaigned on this issue. To read more about BID’s work on the detention of children, visit our website.

Where now for the campaign to end child detention?

Syd Bolton, Solicitor, Children’s Legal Centre*

*This is the text of the speech that Syd Bolton gave to the End Child Detention Now/Shpresa

Keep Your Promise campaign launch, Oxford House, Bethnal Green, London, 26th March 2011.

Thank you all for being part of this campaign and for inviting me to take part in
this important event. On a day of united action across the UK against public sector
cuts; against the loss of essential services and tens of thousands of jobs in the
public and voluntary sectors especially; we must not lose sight of the very close
relationship between unemployment and hostility to migrants; between ever
stricter border controls and the politics of insecurity. The free movement and
privileges enjoyed by global corporations are in stark contrast to the restrictions,
conditions and barriers placed in the way of families, their children and relatives,
to enjoy their lives together in safety, dignity and with respect.

The use of immigration detention is an important cornerstone of the border
policing mentality of not just the UK, but the bigger joint enterprise that is the
European Union. It is a bitter irony that only a few weeks before Libya was
bombed, Gaddafi’s government was one of Europe’s official frontier gatekeepers.
Turning people back from Sub-Saharan Africa trying to reach safety in Europe.

I say all of this to place in context the continuing use of immigration detention for
families with children.

Last year, the new coalition government announced it would end child detention.
But it quickly became evident during the summer-long UK Border Agency (UKBA)
detention review process that this was a measure that UKBA would not give up
lightly, whatever the political intentions.

Call me naive but I had always understood that when a Minister made a public statement
it was meant to be enacted by the civil servants, not undermined. But 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. 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.

Despite the political rhetoric and constantly asking the NGO sector to come up with
alternative solutions – which we did, repeatedly – at the end of the process, the
ultimate sanction of detention could not be taken away. The forceful views of the
UKBA were made to such an extent that the bold and brave political statements made
at the beginning of this new government’s tenure could not hold, and the Minister had
to reframe his language and speak in a more equivocal voice, compromising with the
UKBA on how far the ending of detention would be allowed to go.

The euphemisms abound, but the reality remains. Let us not buy into the spin
that detention of children has been ended. As the UKBA said in their glossy
presentations when this was announced just before Christmas, ultimately, as a
last resort, pending “ensured return” a few families would continue to be
detained but in much reduced numbers, for much shorter periods, in more
suitable “pre-departure (secure) accommodation” (whatever this might turn out
to be).

In other words, after all the hype, the UKBA has only agreed, after huge pressure
from campaigners, international observers, the courts and child health experts, to
move back to the position it had always claimed to be the case under its family
detention policies and operation instructions; that immigration detention of
families should only be used in exceptional circumstances and for the shortest
period possible.

Statistics and a recent succession of high court cases have shown that
those policies have not being followed and there remains a major
tension between child safeguarding and enforcement policies within the UKBA.

From a situation of the commonplace use of detention of families to one where it
may be used sparingly, indeed exceptionally and with a potentially more
transparent and accountable decision making and review process along the way is
a hard won and significant victory, make no mistake. Only time will tell whether
this actually happens in practice.

But it does not end child detention. The move simple re-brands detention. Other
respected voices who during the review had rather pragmatically, rather than it
seems on any principled basis, endorsed 72 hours detention at the end of the
process, have now changed their minds publicly and described it simply as a
repackaging exercise and called for an overhaul of the whole system.

This is not just our opinion. It is a fact that this new accommodation is detention,
whether it is called pre-removal accommodation or not; whether it has a play
area and no bars on the windows, whether after a risk assessment, families might
be permitted to go out on day release or let their children go out with detention
centre staff.

It is detention because the UKBA says so.

At a recent event to launch the new process, a senior Border Agency official said:

“legally it is detention, but it will look and seem totally different.”

And a UKBA fact sheet on pre-departure accommodation answers the question:

‘What rules will apply and under what legal power will you prevent
families leaving?’ with the answer:-

‘Powers to require the family to remain at the accommodation are derived
from Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971. It will ultimately be
operated in accordance with new Short Term Holding Facility Rules.’

So we are left with a new, potentially better decision-making process. Only as a
last resort will detention be used, and the welfare of children is now supposedly
central to the considerations of whether or not to detain. Where this is
authorised, these conditions will satisfy statutory safeguarding and welfare
standards.

These processes now need to be tested and scrutinised. Already they seem to be
found wanting. The new family removals panel is not as transparent as it looks on
paper and it seems like it will operate more like the Special Immigration Appeals
Court panel, (the anti-terrorism court) where the subject in question does not get
to take full part or to see all the evidence, deliberations and reasons. The family
removals review panel itself does not seem to have relevant child welfare and
health expertise and will not publish its detailed findings. It is predicated on how
to remove, not whether to remove. It does not seem to have the best interests of
the child at the heart of its considerations.

There has been a lot of criticism in the media recently of community and
voluntary organisations choosing to work with the UKBA as part of these new
processes, including the provision of welfare services in detention. I leave it to
others to judge whether or not it is better for non-governmental organisations
(NGOs) to contract to work inside this system to ensure that child welfare
standards are met, or best left to the usual private sector security companies and
to local authorities.

Authorities who, like in Yarl’s Wood, always had difficulties
retaining social work staff and balancing their own resources and interests with
the challenges of meeting the welfare needs of children in detention.

Whether in doing so, the institutionalising culture of a detention environment,
even with nice wallpaper and a garden compound, behind a secure perimeter
fence, will over time affect the responses and attitudes of those responsible for
the safeguarding and welfare of children in that environment, remains to be seen.
The institutionalisation of the prison warder and all those working in jails for long
periods is well researched and documented.

A separate and, in my view, earnest discussion needs to be had about this kind of
contracting, particularly in this climate of austerity. Shrinking funds make it
increasingly tempting or, in some cases, necessary for charities to find funding
wherever the opportunity arises. But there are always high risks in working within
the machinery of state rather than holding it to account from the outside. Should
NGOs remain interested independent parties or become formal partners? What I
do know is that our aims and objectives as charities should not become distorted
by the opportunity that is presented, even where the intentions are good.

That is a choice that faces many not for profit organisations at the moment. Some
may think that they can do it better than the private sector and will be motivated
by the improvements they feel they can bring to bear on difficult and
controversial policies and practices. Others may not be so cautious and careful.
On this version of child detention, time and external scrutiny, including
independent inspection and judicial oversight, will be the judge.

But whether detention is used against parents and their children held together, or
whether a parent is detained and children and other family members are left
isolated on the outside, whether children are supposedly free to come and go
under escort, the facts and the legal position are undeniable. Children continue to
be subject to detention and will suffer from its consequences, directly and
indirectly.

Children will continue to suffer from the developmental and psychological
damage inflicted on them, by being uprooted from the communities they have
grown up in, made friends in, went to school in, were born in and want to live in.

It is not all bad news.

In late 2008 the UK ended its immigration reservation to the UN Convention on
the Rights of the Child, making every child equal in law not just in the rhetorical
assertion that “Every Child Matters”.

In 2009 the UKBA was required to follow statutory safeguarding duties to
safeguard and promote the welfare of children in the exercise of all its functions.

These are major shifts in domestic law and the UK’s acceptance of its
international legal obligations is to its credit. Nonetheless it is taking a long time
to work through into practice, and the courts have found the UKBA slow and
wanting in this regard.

Since the detention review started last year and the new scheme was proposed,
the Supreme Court issued a truly landmark judgment on the best interests of
children whose parents are subject to immigration controls. This ruling includes
British Citizen children who cannot be removed or deported but whose parents
might still be subject to removal, including detention and where this would result
in the constructive deportation of their children.

The case of ZH (Tanzania) v SSHD recognises from the highest court in the UK, that
the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, is an integral part of UK
immigration and asylum law and policy.

In particular the best interests of children must be “considered first in decisions
affecting the child”, “must rank higher than any other”.

The judgement adds:

“It is not merely one consideration that weighs in the balance alongside other
competing factors and where the best interests of the child clearly favour a certain
course, that course should be followed unless countervailing factors of
considerable force displace them.”

The principle extends not just to decisions to remove a child or their family but
decisions to detain children under Immigration Act powers or to the separation of
a child from a detained parent.

The Secretary of State has conceded in court, that any decision which is taken
without having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of any
children involved will not be in accordance with the law.

In other words, where the UKBA detains a child or separates a child from his or
her parent(s) then a failure to show how the child’s best interests and welfare
have been assessed and then taken into account will render the detention
unlawful.

The “quality” of the detention centre and the length of detention may be relevant
factors, but it will be insufficient just to say that it is more child-friendly, or that
there is a now a child welfare provider in the accommodation centre. The needs
and best interests of each and every child have to be properly assessed and
considered when arriving at that decision.

The Supreme Court has said that the wishes and feelings of the child must also be
taken into account. If the UKBA cannot show how they have done this in every
single case, the decision is going to be flawed.

The Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg has gone further still.

In March this year a Grand Chamber judgment in a case called ‘Zambrano’ – a
Belgian welfare rights case – held that a child who is born or registered as a citizen
of a member state of the European Union has all the rights of a European Citizen
under the Treaty of Lisbon.

These include the right of children to have their parents care for them and to
remain with them in the country of the child’s citizenship, so that as children
they are able to enjoy their full European Citizenship  rights. This means a
parent who is from a non EU country, irrespective of the parent’s immigration
status, or lack of it, whether a failed asylum seeker or not, must ordinarily
be allowed to stay with their citizen child.

In effect these families, including ones with British Citizen children, are no longer
detainable. If there is no prospect of removal then to detain in these
circumstances will, in my view, also breach the child’s European citizenship rights,
as well as their human rights. Whilst the UKBA clings to its patched-up detention
policies, the highest courts in the UK and in Europe are at long last recognising
the fundamental rights of every child.

Whatever the particular conduct of a child’s parents in their own asylum or
immigration history, the Supreme Court said profoundly in the case of ZH that:

“It would be wrong in principle to devalue what was in their best interests by
something for which they could in no way be held to be responsible.”

In my view, the detention of children is one of the ultimate ways of devaluing
their best interests.

Even if detention is not officially ended, justice and the rights of children demand
that it should be and the courts may finally render it to be an obsolete practice to
be consigned to an unenlightened and unacceptable part of our recent history.

ECDN response to proposed cuts in legal aid to the most vulnerable

Dear Secretary of State

We write on behalf of the campaign organisation, End Child Detention Now (ecdn.org), a citizens’ initiative that has been closely involved in the campaign to end the detention of children in the immigration system in the United Kingdom.

As part of our submission to the Home Office review on child detention that was initiated by your colleague Damian Green, we explained that any scheme which aimed at improving the treatment of asylum seeking families must have proper regard to the provision of good quality legal advice at each point of the asylum application process.

The availability of adequate legal advice and representation to those seeking the protection of the United Kingdom is an obligation under our international treaty agreements and human rights legislation as the consultation paper acknowledges in 4.37-4.42. In section 4.38 of the document you say that

Legal aid currently funds Legal Help and Representation on issues relating to asylum. This includes legal advice for nearly all asylum applicants at the application stage, representation for most asylum appeals before the First-tier and Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber), and advice on appealing to higher courts.

However, that has not been the experience of many of the asylum seeking families with whom we are involved in the York area, or of our fellow refugee advocacy organisations around the country.

In the case of a 2 year old boy who was detained with his mother and father for over a fortnight in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre as recently as 2009, we had to telephone 31 separate solicitors and legal advice providers before we could find a legal representative for the family. Thanks to the legal intervention that we were able to secure they now have indefinite leave to remain, and the boy is a British citizen.

There are many hundreds of families and individuals who, even under the existing system, have no opportunity to make a proper asylum claim because the number of firms and charities who are able and willing to provide immigration law representation under the current Legal Services Commission funding arrangements has fallen off dramatically.

For example, the collapse of Refugee and Migrant Justice has been a disaster for those organisations like us, based outside of London, which often need to find emergency, expert legal help to assist a family issued with removal orders but now we are frequently unable to find even a single practitioner to take on a case unless it can be privately funded.

In short, many of the families with who we are in contact face a Catch-22 situation. They have often had their initial claims refused due to non-existent or incompetent legal advice, and consequently they face destitution as ‘failed asylum seekers’. Forbidden from the right to work and without recourse to public funds their only hope of being able to submit an appeal which might help to expose the flaws in the initial casework decision or poor quality representation is to find a legal aid lawyer in their immediate vicinity. This is rarely possible because in York and in many other parts of the country outside London there are no sources of free qualified immigration law advice. Instead such families have to rely on charitable help for the funds to travel often-considerable distances to find an advocate.

As a consequence of the proposed reforms, we anticipate that the few remaining providers of publicly funded legal services to refugees and asylum seekers will have to withdraw from this area of the law. Local authority funded legal services are also on the point of collapse and the Citizens Advice Bureaux (which in any case often lack case workers qualified to provide specialist immigration advice) are massively reducing the services that they are able to offer the public due to cuts to their budgets.

A particular concern that we identify is the proposal to discontinue funding for Article 8 claims (even in the First Tier of the Immigration Tribunal). The idea that individuals who for immigration purposes wish to make an Article 8 claim, including even young children, can represent themselves against experienced Home Office Presenting Officers before a judge and understand the intricacies of the relevant statutes and case law is simply untenable.

In many cases the appellant may not have adequate English skills and will have to rely on an interpreter—presumably at the potentially destitute appellant’s expense. It must be obvious that in these circumstances the ‘equality of arms’ principle, which the European and British courts have accepted as fundamental to the administration of justice, would be fatally undermined.

The injustice of the proposed reform is further compounded by the proposal to remove all opportunities for public legal assistance where an asylum seeker is appealing against a decision to deny support under sections 4 and 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Families applying for support under this legislation are doing so on grounds of destitution and there are often serious safeguarding issues involving children to which local authorities must pay due regard. It cannot be right that a public authority should be able to avoid a challenge to a potentially perverse or unlawful decision simply because the individual or individuals subject to that decision do not have the means to challenge it.

In conclusion, we support the view expressed by the late Mr Justice Hodge, then President of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal, who told the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee that

(The AIT) and its judges, whenever they have been asked, have always said that we value representation and we want as many people to be legally represented as possible, and whenever we discuss these matters with the Legal Services Commission, which we do periodically, that is entirely what we say….—the change in representation has been very much driven by the Legal Services Commission’s worries about the total cost of their budget rather than anything to do with us

The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, rightly said that in relation to the care of children under immigration control we need to effect a ‘culture change’ in the Home Office. Such a culture change would mean that those who seek asylum in this country are not automatically disbelieved, but are given a genuine, professional and fair hearing and ample opportunity to present their case through a qualified and well-prepared advocate. Numerous judges and Home Affairs Select Committee reports have found that the UK Border Agency is needlessly generating expensive legal appeals because of inadequate and inconsistent decision-making.

By ensuring that early, good quality legal advice is available to all asylum seekers, the downstream savings in terms of lost Home Office appeals, expensive arrest and detention bills, and large compensation claims will more than offset the savings that the Legal Services Commission expects to make by further restricting access to justice for some of the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society.

Yarl’s Wood is the Moral Outrage

Writing in The Guardian on Friday 23 July 2010, Phil Shiner and Daniel Carey from Public Interest Lawyers explain why the closure of the family wing at Yarl’s Wood is only a step towards a more humane asylum policy.

The deputy prime minister’s announcement to parliament that the family wing at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre is to close is an important, but partial, step towards restoring the rights of some of the most vulnerable members of our society. The “moral outrage” expressed by Nick Clegg reflects only that expressed by immigrant families, doctors, campaigning organisations and even the children’s commissioner for some time. For too long the centre has come to embody the deep malaise in Britain’s treatment of those seeking refuge.

The article goes on to point out that the new Home Secretary has continued the previous government’s policy of refusing to accept that detainees in Yarl’s Wood have been denied their fundamental rights and its failure to address the chronic lack of legal representation and denial of justice that continues to be endemic within the UK asylum system. Read the full article here.

ECDN addresses General Synod Meeting on the Child Detention Review

Address to the Fringe Meeting of the General Synod’s Mission and Public Affairs Council on Child Immigration Detention with End Child Detention Now and the Children’s Society, York, 10 July 2010.

Esme Madill on behalf of End Child Detention Now.

Thank you very much for inviting us here today.

End Child Detention Now welcomes the coalition government’s commitment to ending child immigration detention.

In the light of this commitment and the review today I am going to talk about how the ECDN Citizen’s Campaign came about and hope this will show two things. One how critical it is that we hold the government to its promise to end child detention and strive to work towards a just and fairer asylum system and secondly how small groups of committed people can join with others and really make a difference.

We talk about the campaign beginning with a 2 year old boy Ali but in fact is started a year earlier when three sisters, Jeannie, Joyce and Lauren were woken at 5.50am. Their door was broken in and their mum was dragged and pushed down the stairs in front of the girls. Their mum has a life threatening illness – she relied on a cocktail of drugs to keep her alive so absconding was really not an option. Nonetheless the family were driven to Yarls’ Wood – Joyce, then aged 11 had a school trip to the seaside the next day, she had not been to the seaside before, she didn’t go then either. Lauren, then aged three was so frightened when she arrived at Yarl’s Wood she hid under the bed crying that she just wanted to go home. They spent 23 days in detention. We found a friend, a barrister who acted pro bono and they now all have refugee status. Their mum volunteers part time at the local school and is an active member of the church. The children are thriving.

Though we had begun to understand the horrors of child immigration detention when Jeannie, Lauren and Joyce won their case we decided we’d get on with our lives and hold a BBQ to celebrate – but by the time the BBQ took place – waiting for a sunny day and a time everyone could make – we were in the midst of another immigration nightmare.

Cicek is a friend of ours – she and her daughters come to the weekly drop-in for refugees and asylum seekers in York. Cicek’s family are Kurdish and were politically active in Turkey and they have suffered for it. A cousin was shot dead, male and female members of the family were imprisoned, and Fadima, Cicek’s sister has never really recovered from this. A quiet spoken, shy and nervous woman, one Monday she had gone to the police station in Barrow to sign on as she did each month without her 2 year old son. He was with her husband’s cousin as she did not like him to see her at the police station. She had been detained – her family were terrified. The custody sergeant thought she was at risk of harming herself

She was transferred to Dungavel where her husband had been held for 8 months.

For four days she was kept separated from her son. Every time I called Cicek who was looking after him to say what the latest news was from the UKBA all I could hear in the background was Ane, Ane, Ane, Turkish for Mum – He only stops crying when he is asleep Cicek tells me.

Finally on the Thursday a van took Ali to be reunited with his parents and they were then taken off to Yarl’s Wood to begin their 26-days of detention. A stay during which Fadima sank into a catatonic state, and was unable to sleep, eat or speak. Ali meanwhile lost weight and constantly called for his cousins.

Over the following three weeks the family were booked on a plane – the deportation was only averted when Cicek and I worked together to submit a fresh claim. We had no lawyer (we called 30 – and faxed papers to three who said they might help but could not).  Just before midnight the day before they were due to fly the appeal was faxed and at the 11th hour was accepted. But they were to spend many more days in detention – living some kind of half-life.

Finally, through Medical Justice, we found a solicitor who secured their release. They have now been granted leave to remain but they have in no way recovered from their experiences.

That is just one story and through fighting to get this family out and keep them safe we learnt of so many others.

During the weeks that Ali and his parents were detained we campaigned ceaselessly. Clare Sambrook a former journalist on a national newspaper, a novelist and friend orchestrated the press campaign: the local papers in Barrow and Cumbria were hugely supportive, as were the Big Issue in the North and Radio Cumbria. We lobbied MPs, called on all our friends, set up a Facebook page and a website. This time the levels of support and our rage and anger made it logical not to stop.

We would harness this desire to protect Ali to protect many others like him – we would join OutCry! and Citizens for Sanctuary and we would not stop until children stopped being detained.

The campaign was launched in September 2009 with an Early Day Motion sponsored by Chris Mullin MP calling upon the government to end the practice of holding children in immigration detention centres. 121 MPs supported the Motion.

We knew changing people’s hearts and minds was crucial so we launched a tireless press campaign. Clare Sambrook researched and wrote investigative stories and articles — published in Open Democracy, Private Eye and The Guardian on-line — exposing Home Office efforts to bury medical evidence of harm at Yarl’s Wood and illuminating the government’s relationship with the security companies who run the detention centres for profit.

We enabled families detained at Yarl’s Wood to get their letter to Nick Clegg published in the Observer.

The End Child Detention Now team — a group of friends working unpaid — have written our own comment articles across the national and professional press — Guardian, Independent, Community Care, Nursery World, Big Issue in the North

We did not want to work alone – our close links with refugee community in York and London enabled us to organise public events, with those who themselves have experienced detention and seen the devastation it causes. In York the logo for our campaign- a child’s hand print – came from a 14 year old who was detained in Dover Holding centre – those 48 hours in detention were enough to make her an ardent supporter of our campaign and very proud of her now famous handprint.

At the York drop–in each Sunday Ali’s cousins and friends made prints of their hands and wrote asking the PM to stop locking up other little boys and girls. In London Luljeta Nuzi of the Shpresa Programme, consulted her young refugees – they were adamant they wanted to come on board – 200 hand prints later, on a freezing day in December Jeremy Corbyn joined a group of these young Albanian refugees to deliver hand prints and hard copies of the petition to number 10.

This same group of young refugees held a vigil between Christmas and New Year asking others not to forget the children spending Christmas in detention. In York Quakers and refugees joined together for a similar public event.

At the very outset faith groups embraced this cause. Bishop John Packer gave us our first quote for our very first press release. Bishops from the Church of England, the church of Scotland, the Church in Wales and the Catholic church, as well as leaders and moderators of the URC, Baptists, Methodists, the Salvation Army, the Iona Community, the Quakers and the Evangelical Alliance signed a public letter published in the Telegraph calling for an end to child detention. They stated that:

As faith leaders we affirm the value and potential of every child’s life and believe that this is seriously threatened by using child detention as part of immigration policy. We ask the Government to afford children who have come to our shores to seek sanctuary the same level of concern, care and protection of human rights that it affords all other children in this country.

As well as the faith leaders’ letters we co-ordinated public letters signed by prominent, novelists, children’s writers and actors, published in the Guardian, and Observer. Beverley Naidoo, one of the authors then visited Yarl’s Wood and ran a workshop for children incarcerated there. We corresponded with the then Prime Minister and the Chief Executive of the UKBA – meticulously researching the evidence of the harm detention causes and the more humane alternatives that exist.

We’ve used Facebook and Twitter to bring new readers to our published material, and to make our point again and again – there is no need to lock up children.

In seven months nearly 5000 people signed the End Child Detention Now on-line petition launched the same week as the EDM and more than many hundreds more signed the hard copy.

By Feb 2010 Jeremy Corbyn was telling us there had been a sea change in Westminster – the EDM and press coverage he assured us was making MPs feel very uncomfortable. The Lib Dems had also included a commitment to ending child detention in their manifesto.

So the combined efforts of the children’s charities, refugee community groups, faith leaders, community organisations, the Children’s Commissioner, medics, authors, actors and the men and women in the street – have brought an end to child detention.

So have we won? It feels like a victory but also not. We need to know the alternatives that are to be put in place. There has been talk of tagging and family separation.

Meanwhile Refugee and Migrant Justice has folded. In York, where we already struggled to find legal advice we now have none. How can families make their cases without access to any legal services – how can this be justice? Families remain destitute and isolated.

But we have learned lessons from this campaign and while we know there is so much still to fight for if the children of asylum seekers are to be treated as fully human, we also know what is possible – that small groups of people can join together and become a voice that cannot be ignored. We know that we cannot let evil prevail by doing nothing, but we have also learned it is possible to harness anger and rage at injustice, shame at our government’s treatment of the most vulnerable in society and use this to hold those in power to account. This is a valuable lesson.

Simon Parker on behalf of End Child Detention Now.

In our submission to the Home Office’s review of child detention we began by quoting Dr Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge, in the recent House of Commons debate on alternatives to child detention when he said:

The main alternative that I can think of to detaining 1,000 children a year is not to detain them’.

That must be our starting point. It is for the UKBA and the other national and local government bodies along with relevant charities, voluntary agencies and campaign organisations to develop humane alternatives that keep this objective at the front of all the review’s deliberations.

We then point to the deficiencies of the existing asylum process, which have contributed to the UK having the lowest number of voluntary returns in Europe. These include

  • the lack of adequate legal representation for families who wish to make an asylum claim or appeal against a refusal of asylum lies and the long delays in resolving cases lies at the root of the problem.
  • the lack of contact with families or
  • information on assisted voluntary return prior to the issuance of removal notices.
  • the absence of a ‘children’s rights first’ culture within the UKBA, despite the provisions of Section 55 of the 2009 Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act and the appointment of a Children’s Champion.
  • This problem has been exacerbated by an institutional culture within the Home Office, the UKBA and among previous ministers of state that the maintenance of a detention regime is an essential deterrent against those who may make unfounded asylum claims in future.

End Child Detention Now believes that all those involved in considering alternative arrangements to detention must agree a clear distinction between the need to ensure the welfare and best interests of the child and the UK government’s legitimate objective in maintaining an effective asylum and immigration policy.

As Sir Al Aynsley-Green has stated, this requires a change of mindset from a culture of ‘deny, detain, deport’ to one which removes the adversarial aspect of case management, grants leave to remain to those who require the United Kingdom’s protection and supports and compassionately facilitates the return of those who do not.

Length of Detention

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons found that at least a third of child inmates are detained for more than a month.

The Immigration Law Practitioners Association found in each of the years 2004 to 2007 that a number of children had been detained in excess of 100 days with one child having spent a shocking 190 days in detention.

The former Children’s Commissioner for England has also stated that, ‘[w]e remain very concerned at the length of detention experienced by significant numbers of children and are not convinced that this is always “for the shortest appropriate period of time” as required by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Damian Green said in the recent Westminster Hall debate

in some cases we may still have to have recourse to holding families for a short period before removal-where keeping the family together is seen as being in the best interests of the children, which of course must be the paramount concern (Hansard 17 June 2010 Col 214 WH).

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child does not stipulate a time limit beyond which it would be unreasonable to hold a child, but the government must take account of the overwhelming medical evidence that even quite short periods of detention can have a significant harmful impact on a child’s health and well-being.

We are particularly concerned that if while a family is held in pre-removal detention there is a problem with documentation or an escort is unavailable (as frequently happens) or if there is an outstanding legal appeal then the period of detention could be extended for days or even weeks.

It is therefore vital that in the normal course of events detention should not be used at all prior to removal, but in the rare cases where it does prove necessary due to the timing of flights and travelling distance to the airport that families are held for no longer than 24 hours in hotel type accommodation and not high security detention centres such as Yarl’s Wood or Tinsley House.

If the UKBA fails to effect a removal within that time period it must return the family to the community and allow a period of at least 3 months before issuing fresh removal instructions.

Family Separation

We are concerned about the new government’s mixed messages on separating families – while Dame Pauline Neville-Jones appeared to rule out separating families as an alternative to detention in the House of Lords, Damian Green was much more equivocal in his speech during the recent Westminster Hall debate

…there will remain difficult cases where solutions will have to be found and where enforced removals are likely to continue. That approach could involve separating different members of a family and reuniting them before departure, so that some family members stay in the accommodation they are used to. However, I recognise that that approach would be hugely contentious and has its own practical difficulties

Not the least of the practical difficulties is that separating families for no good reason other than for the purposes of immigration control is a clear breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

What concerns us, and many of the organisations we work with, is that the Home Office in general and the UK Border Agency in particular appear to believe that they are ‘above the law’.

Damian Green’s civil servants continue to brief him on policy alternatives that confirm the impression of Mr Justice Collins in the case of two unaccompanied minors who were forcibly and illegally returned to Italy:

Ministers and senior civil servants at UKBA do not understand what is meant by ‘the rule of law’ and they do not understand that it is not something that can be selectively toyed with. Either they do not understand it or, more worryingly, they perfectly well understand it and don’t give a damn. There is undoubtedly a culture of institutional unlawfulness, to coin a phrase.

The Refugee Children’s Consortium and all the other agencies working in this field – including the Churches Refugee Network, along with current and former children’s commissioners have been consistent in opposing any attempt to separate families as an alternative to child detention and we hope that the Synod will be equally strong in highlighting the damaging effect that family separation can have on children as it has in the case of detention.

Inadequate Legal Support

Esme has already pointed to the Olympian efforts that had to be made just to secure legal representation for a family that now have leave to remain but who would otherwise have been deported and facing real hardship and danger in their country of origin.

In 2008, the European Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, expressed deep concerns at the serious reduction of legal aid provided to asylum seekers in the United Kingdom.

We are encouraged that the new government has rightly identified the issue of families’ access to legal representation as an important factor in improving the current system, but as many of you will be aware Refugee and Migrant Justice – the largest provider of legal support to asylum seekers is in administration and most of its regional offices have closed.

As the Churches Refugee Network wrote in its submission to the review:

In its press statement the Ministry of Justice blithely states that it is “confident that there is widespread provision of legal advice in this area, with more than 250 offices nationally providing this type of service”; the Ministry is well aware that swathes of the country are a legal desert so far as such provision goes.

The Spending Review is likely to impose even more draconian cuts on the Legal Services Commission meaning that publicly funded immigration work will only become viable for unscrupulous firms and practitioners who offer poor representation.

But the government will actually save money in the long run if it ensures the provision of early high quality legal advice, and provides independent case management to the family. A point that is strongly made in the Joint Children’s Commissioners submission.

As in Canada we also need to move to a system where it is not the Border Agency that rules on the merits of an individual asylum claim but an independent agency that is not judged by the number of returns in proportion to new claims but by the quality of its case-work and the welfare of its clients.

Concluding Comments

The campaign to end child detention has been a success, but it can only be considered a partial one until the outcome of the review is published and the alternatives scrutinised and the consequences for the thousands of families who will be affected properly investigated.

There is still much work to do and we have particular concerns about the fate of unaccompanied minors and government plans to return these very vulnerable young people to war zones such as Afghanistan.

Despite the provision of a ‘reintegration centre’ there are very grave risks that these youngsters will be exposed to and we cannot just wash our hands of our responsibility since it is a conflict to which the UK continues to be an active contributor.

We support the Joint Children’s Commissioners call for ongoing dialogue beyond the review, that ensures that the views, interests and well-being of children are at the forefront of new policy, practice and procedure.

We hope that that the Synod will continue to play an important role in that dialogue and we look forward to working with the Church in ensuring that the government honours its pledge to end the scandal of child immigration detention.

24 Hours to Save Migrant Justice – Your Help is Urgently Needed

ECDN is backing this urgent appeal from Refugee and Migrant Justice – Don’t allow this lifeline for hundreds of vulnerable asylum seeking children to be lost. For many refugee families this is a life and death cause. Pledge your support now!

If you would be prepared to donate some funds, however small to help save RMJ and secure its services over the next three months, please read this post. If funds from both Government and other funders can be agreed, RMJ’s administrators would, in principle, support the proposal to take RMJ out of administration.

A consortium of charitable trusts and city law firms, supported by Simon Hughes MP, are putting together a proposal to Government to save Refugee and Migrant Justice (RMJ). The proposal asks the Government to at least pay the money that it would have to pay anyway on insolvency on the understanding that this will be matched with up to £1,000,000 by way of grants, secured loans and donations to meet cash needs to finance work in progress.

We need concrete commitments for these funds today or as early as possible tomorrow – actual cash can come a bit later. So far to day, we have been pledged £134,000. Significantly more could follow from charitable trusts and others we are already talking with. But at this point it is clear that this is going to be a very considerable challenge without some additional help.

savermj@gmail.com

If you wish to discuss this further please telephone Kathleen Commons on 0787 216 1271.

Leading advisor to Conservative think-tank on why families should be kept out of Yarl’s Wood

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Malcolm Stevens, former lead Children’s Services Inspector with the Government’s Social Services Inspectorate, Director of Justice Care and a key advisor to Ian Duncan Smith’s influential Conservative think-tank, the Centre for Social Justice, explains why Yarl’s Wood Immigration centre is no place for children and families.

It is heartening news that the coalition Government will review child detention laws. But it is not surprising: the often traumatising practice of detaining children in places like Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre has been the subject of widespread criticism from paediatricians, psychiatrists and even the government’s own inspectorate.

When he became England’s first Commissioner for Children, Sir Al Aynsley-Green said that nothing in his 30-year career as a children’s doctor prepared him for his first visit to Yarl’s Wood, Bedfordshire, in 2005.

His reports and letters to the government read like a series of exposés, revealing the appalling life experiences of the children and families that he encountered there. He describes children snatched from their homes in dawn raids; transportation in prison-like vehicles, with young children separated from their parents; and incarceration in prison-like institutions provided by private contractors. These prison contractors, it transpired, showed little evidence of their suitability to the delicate task with which they were entrusted.

In March 2010, the Government’s Inspectorate (HMIP) reported that detention in Yarl’s Wood “clearly and adversely affected children’s welfare”. This came shortly after Sir Al himself concluded: “Yarl’s Wood is no place for a child”. And we still await publication of the investigation by Bedfordshire’s Local Safeguarding Children Board into allegations of “sexually harmful behaviour” between unrelated children, and the significant failures that may have led to these incidences.

So it cannot be stated clearly enough: Yarl’s Wood is not a centre for children and families. It is not run like one, it is not regulated like one and it is not inspected like one. It is unlike any other accommodation I have seen provided for children in the post 1989 Children Act era.

This has to change – and quickly. We now have an opportunity to rethink how children and families are looked after in what are complex, and invariably sad, circumstances. Hopefully, this will include consideration of the advances in this area that have been made elsewhere in Europe. Of course, it is reassuring to hear that ministers intend to move quickly on this, but we must ensure that a review does not mean another delay.

Equivocation is not an option in Britain. For a country which rightly takes pride in safeguarding its children, it is indefensible to force a small group of them to live in a place where they are known to be at risk – and where they are not protected by the same regulatory framework which applies to safeguard children elsewhere.

We must apply the same principles to immigration centres that are enforced nationwide. Children must be removed urgently from wherever their safety and welfare is at risk. As this includes Yarl’s Wood, it must be closed at once.

Malcolm Stevens is a Director of JusticeCare solutions. He is a former lead children’s services Inspector with the Government’s Social Services Inspectorate and now advises the Centre for Social Justice and Sir Al Aynsley-Green.

Queen’s speech confirms plans to end child detention but fears raised over punitive alternatives

The government confirmed plans in the Queen’s Speech today that it “will limit the number of non-European Union economic migrants entering the United Kingdom and end the detention of children for immigration purposes.” However, David Cameron’s government  has yet to commit itself to a time-table which means that the abusive imprisonment of children and their parents in immigration detention centres continues unabated and with no definite end in sight.

Neil Puffett in a good article for  Children and Young People Now gathers responses from a number of child welfare and refugee and asylum supporter organisations and highlights concerns at the prospect that Damian Green’s review could result in children being separated from their families.

The government must not be allowed to replace one form of child cruelty with another. Any alternative to detention must be humanitarian and in the best interests of the child and not designed to suit the operational convenience of the immigration detention industry and the UK Borders Agency.

Colin Firth speaks out against Sehar’s detention and deportation.

In Monday’s Guardian, Colin Firth speaks out against the continued detention of children and families and the appalling circumstances that led to the forcible return of Sehar Shebaz to Pakistan.

I am distressed to learn that only days after the government agreed to end the iniquity of child detention, a mother and baby were summarily arrested, detained and deported last week. Sehar Shebaz – from Pakistan – and her baby Wania, who have been living lawfully in Glasgow for three years, were snatched on Monday when reporting as required every fortnight to the authorities, whisked to Dungaval prison, detained and then taken the 350 miles to Yarl’s Wood detention centre. At Yarl’s Wood they were segregated from fellow detainees in the “family care suite”, then taken to the airport on Saturday evening and flown to Pakistan.
Shebaz is the victim of well-documented domestic violence in the UK. Her escape from her husband is extremely likely to incur retributive violence when she sets foot in Pakistan. Her life and her baby’s are at serious risk. Damian Green, the immigration minister, refused to give Shebaz compassionate leave to remain despite receiving copies of police reports and letters from Blackburn Women’s Aid confirming she was subjected to domestic violence. I urge the new government to demonstrate civilised and compassionate values by doing everything in its power to secure Shebaz and her baby’s safety, to stop the shameful cruelty of arresting and detaining children and their parents, and to release the families currently being held without prevarication.
Colin Firth
London

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