Category: children

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]

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.

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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

‘Barnardo’s! Please quit the child detention business’

Alida Alisis, this article originally appeared in openDemocracy on 8 August 2011.

Back in March, almost a year after the government had promised to end what Nick Clegg called the “shameful practice” of locking up asylum seeking families in conditions known to harm their mental health, Barnardo’s stunned children’s advocates by revealing that it had agreed to work with the UK Border Agency and security giant G4S at the new immigration detention centre for families with children at Pease Pottage near Gatwick that’s opening later this Summer.

Frances Webber, vice chair of the Institute of Race Relations, accused Barnardo’s — Britain’s biggest children’s charity — of providing “a cloak of legitimacy to the continued detention of children”. Former children’s commissioner for England and internationally renowned paediatrican Sir Al Aynsley-Green wrote in OurKingdom that this “worrying development” sparked the question: “are the big children’s organisations effective advocates for children, or are they friends of government?

Stung by such criticism Barnardo’s chief executive Anne Marie Carrie last month made comments widely reported as a tough-talking “ultimatum” to UKBA, saying the charity would pull out of the working partnership if children and families were not treated properly. But can we trust Barnardo’s to stand up to the government?

We, being students and members of SOAS Detainee Support who visit immigration detainees and offer them support, have campaigned hard against child detention. In May last year we picketed G4S’s annual meeting, argued with the company’s chief executive Nick Buckles (who, by the way, is paid almost £5000 every day), and landed a picture in the Daily Telegraph’s city pages. In June last year, we ran the Release Carnival, bringing together campaigners and child refugees to march on Downing Street.

When this past March Barnardo’s threw in its lot with Nick Buckles and the UK Border Agency we felt utterly dismayed, let down, betrayed. When we visited Barnardo’s HQ at Barkingside in Essex to express our disappointment. We were sent away and told to study Barnardo’s website so we’d understand what they were doing. We read. It still looked wrong. We made a second visit, intending to distribute a leaflet outlining our objections to staff as they left work. Barnardo’s diverted workers to a rear exit.

Lately we’ve scrutinised Barnardo’s “ultimatum”. Here’s what we make of it.

Barnardo’s says:

Barnardo’s seeks to support the most vulnerable children. The families and children held in this accommodation are at their most vulnerable and desperately need our support.  Barnardo’s will always help the most vulnerable children in the UK and will work to ensure that asylum seekers are treated humanely throughout their time in the UK.

We say:

In May 2010 the coalition government pledged to end the detention of children for immigration purposes – finally recognising the lasting psychological harm it caused. Former Barnardo’s chief exec, Martin Narey, slammed the imprisonment of asylum-seeking families as “unnecessary” and “shameful”.  But another ConDem u-turn has meant child detention continues, simply rebranded as “family-friendly pre-departure accommodation”.

As many as 4,445 children could be jailed each year at de facto prisons run by G4S (who may face corporate manslaughter charges over the death of Jimmy Mubenga on a deportation flight). Barnardo’s involvement has already given this sham a fig leaf of legitimacy with councillors who granted planning permission at Pease Pottage reassured by Barnardo’s involvement.  Rather than offering a new face to the same agenda of abuse and degradation in immigration detention Barnardo’s should urge the government to keep its pledge and end child detention.

Barnardo’s says:

Under new immigration processes families will be given every opportunity and help to leave voluntarily. If they choose not to then an independent return panel, which includes child psychologists and medical experts, will oversee the most appropriate method of return and any specific safeguards which need to be in place.

We say:

The ‘independent’ return panel is to provide advice or offer amendments to UKBA on the method of removing the family from the UK. They do not decide the method of removal.  UKBA does not have to accept the Panel’s advised amendments. Disagreements will be referred to the immigration minister who will decide how to proceed.  Information given to the Panel is kept secret from the family who are unable to contest it even if the information given to the panel is wrong, out of date or fresh evidence has become available. The advice the Panel gives the UKBA is kept secret.  There is no built-in external scrutiny and the panel cannot be considered independent due to many members being UKBA and governmental staff.

Barnardo’s says (about the Government’s new immigration processes and UKBA’s pre-departure accommodation):

All this adds up to a system which has ambitions to be fundamentally different — which seeks to safeguard children and treat families and children with compassion.

That is why one of my first decisions as chief executive was to agree that Barnardo’s provides the welfare and social work services within the accommodation.

 We say:

But how can Barnardo’s talk of ‘a system which has ambitions to be fundamentally different — which seeks to safeguard children and treat families and children with compassion’ when the UK has lately lost its two largest providers of legal aid representation to migrants and asylum seekers and more reputable voices tell us tens of thousands of the most vulnerable in our society are at the mercy of the UK Border Agency’s arbitrary and often unlawful actions?

Barnardo’s says:

As a last resort, a short stay should include expert family support to ensure humane treatment.  Barnardo’s accepts that, as a last resort and after consideration by an independent panel, children and families may need to be kept in secure pre-departure accommodation for a very short period of time.  Barnardo’s wants to ensure that these families are treated humanely with respect and dignity, and are given the correct support through access to welfare and social work services ahead of their departure.  It is critical that families and children have someone to turn to during this extremely stressful and difficult time.                      

We say:

It is critical that, after an analysis of all the medical evidence, families and children are not detained at all. Barnardo’s saying they are making the situation better by being there is like someone agreeing to be a hangman because they can make the death less painful than another. The families detained will be those who — except in ‘exceptional circumstances’ — have not complied with any of the other attempts at removal. This might very well be because they are terrified to go back, and being locked up will be extremely frightening and traumatic. The presence of Barnardo’s will not ease this fear as long as they are still locked up and facing deportation.

Barnardo’s says:

We see an important part of our role as shedding light on the whole immigration process to ensure it supports those children within it. We are absolutely clear that if policy and practice fall short of safeguarding the welfare, dignity and respect of families, then Barnardo’s will raise concerns, will speak out and ultimately, if we have to, we will withdraw our services.

We say:

The “red-lines” set down by Barnardo’s are no use at all. The research (and common-sense!) shows that even one week in detention is long enough for a child to be severely affected.  As a children’s charity Barnardo’s should not help the UKBA detain and deport people, it should speak out against child detention FULL STOP.

We’re visiting Barnardo’s again today to ask them to stop spinning and start listening to and defending vulnerable children such as this child detainee quoted in the Medical Justice report State Sponsored Cruelty: “I am so scared of the Home Office. It is hard times for me and my mum. She would rather kill herself than go back.”

Australia sinks to new depths in terrorising would be asylum seekers

“Video of asylum seekers being loaded on to flights to Malaysia will be posted on facebook and Youtube as a scare tactic to frighten off other refugees from coming to Australia illegally on boats”, according to Sky News Australia.

“Every step of the 54 latest arrivals, picked up off the coast of Western Australia on Sunday, will be filmed and then immediately posted online”.

The Australian government’s crude attempt to terrorise would be asylum seekers from making the hazardous see crossing from Indonesia to Christmas Island is but a further example of the Gillard government’s increasingly inhumane approach to the treatment of undocumented migrants.

The Age newspaper reported that as many as 19 unaccompanied minors are due to be processed for deportation to Malaysia – one third of a contingent of 55 that had arrived by boat on Christmas Island since the ‘get tough’ policy had been announced.

To ensure that no passengers can escape their forcible removal to Malaysia, local riot police had been sent to the recently reopened Phosphate Hill detention centre in Western Australia along with a contingent of Royal Malaysian Police.

‘The United Nations’ children’s agency said it was extremely concerned unaccompanied minors may be deported from Christmas Island and called on Mr Bowen not to send them to Malaysia for processing’.

The Australian Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said the children should not be used as a deterrent for people smugglers. ”None of the 19 should be sent to a country where there are not guarantees that they will be protected from harm,” she said, saying the policy left a ”sick feeling in the stomach”.

Mid-Sussex migrant prison protest announced

Croydon No Borders are organising a demonstration against the opening of a new family immigration prison  (euphemistically referred to by the Home Office as  ‘pre-departure accommodation’) on Saturday 30th July, 1pm at Muster Green park, Hayward’s Heath.

Hayward’s Heath is where Mid Sussex District Council, the local authority which approved planning permission for the new asylum prison is based.

G4S who will be running escort and security services at the new prison is still under investigation for the alleged manslaughter of Angolan Jimmy Mubenga who died while being restrained by three escort officers on a flight from Heathrow in October 2010. This shocking case is also being investigated by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.

Meanwhile, G4s ‘corporate partner’ and ‘Play facilities’ provider at the prison will be children’s charity Barnado’s against whom an active campaign is running involving the disruption of fundraising events and the picketing of Barnado’s shops and head offices.

Saturday’s demonstration will also provide an opportunity to protest against the opening of a new high security child detention unit at the expensively refurbished Tinsley House near Gatwick Airport, and G4S’s ‘distressing and objectionable’ practice of arresting and forcibly escorting ‘reserve’ detainees to bundle on to deportation flights if the intended victims are unable to fly. See Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prison’s investigation of the G4S operation at Tinsley House reported in The Guardian 26 July 2011.

Please rememver to bring your banners, placards and instruments and demand an end to detention and deportation.

New Edinburgh Festival family detention drama in London preview

The Pleasance and End Child Detention Now present this year’s Charlie Hartill Award winning play Fit for Purpose by Catherine O’Shea.

Directed by Tanja Pagnuco. 12.45 Pleasance Courtyard, Attic 4-29th August (not 15th).

Inspiration In January 2010 fifty female asylum seekers’ who were being held in the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre went on hunger strike to protest at the conditions they and their families had to endure. This ended 5 weeks later with violence and women being removed to Holloway prison. This new play Fit for Purpose tells the story of Aruna and Kaela a Somali mother and daughter who are detained in Yarl’s Wood at the start of the strike. The extreme stress of their journey and subsequent mistreatment by the UK Border Agency makes Aruna retreat into herself while her thirteen year old daughter tries to understand what is happening.

Research Fit for Purpose is the result of extensive research over the last four years. Catherine O’Shea began researching while on the MA Writing for Performance at Goldsmiths College. She has interviewed asylum lawyers, asylum seekers, UK Border Agency staff and various NGO’s such as Bail for Immigration Detainees. She has accompanied the All Africa Women’s Group to parliament on several occasions and they inspired the women’s group which is central to the support Aruna receives in the play. Aruna’s story was inspired by the book Enslaved; The New British Slavery by Rahila Gupta. Development Fit for Purpose is this year’s Charlie Hartill Award winning play, the production is also supported by the End Child Detention Now campaign. It was developed at RADA with Lloyd Trott and actresses including Tanya Moodie and Chipo Chung. The play has had development readings at Soho Theatre, RADA and the Pleasance.

Production The director and cast have explored the issue of displacement through improvisation, physical exercises, characterisation and the use of real-life stories. They have examined the experience of being an asylum seeker in the UK and how this impacts on the self-confidence, self-respect, mental and physical health and sociability of the two main characters Aruna and Kaela. The ten other characters are shared by 3 actresses. The piece oscillates between strong realistic moments showing the reality of the system and stylised fragments conveying through poetry, physicality the inner-turmoil of these characters. London previews Tuesday 19th and Wednesday 20th July, 7.30pm at the Pleasance Islington.

PRESS ENQUIRIES Mimi Poskitt T 07789070505 E mposkitt@gmail.com LISTINGS

Dates: 4th – 29th August 2011 (not 15th August) Venue: 12.45 Pleasance Courtyard, Attic Tickets: £10 (£8) Weekends £9 (£7) Weekdays Box Office: 0131 556 6550 To book review tickets for this show please contact the Pleasance Press Office 0131 556 6557 press@pleasance.co.uk

The invisible child detainees – Prison Inspectorate reveals neglect of children in short term holding facilities

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons has recently published a review of the last six years’ inspections of short-term holding facilities. These facilities are intended to hold people detained for immigration purposes for short periods of time before or after arrival in the UK, and those awaiting transportation to long-term places of detention. One of the main criteria for assessing the effects of short-term holding facilities is safety:

Are detainees held in safety, with due regard to the insecurity of their position? In the case of children, the answer appears to be overwhelmingly no.

The review found that during the detention process

  • insufficient attention was given to ensuring the dignity of detainees
  • the use of handcuffs by immigration staff still prevalent
  • one centre recorded how a mother had been handcuffed during the journey there, despite the fact she was accompanied by her two young children

The use of unnecessary restraints can cause significant mental harm, particularly to children, and the review highlights the urgent need for UKBA and its contractors to establish a more stringent policy regarding their usage when dealing with potentially vulnerable people.

The majority of short-term holding facilities are not designed for long-term or overnight stays, and are without the most basic amenities. The review found that detention for over 12 hours was common, with many people being held for over 24 hours in non-residential facilities, without washing or sleeping facilities. Foil blankets, it was reported, were often the only means of keeping warm during these long periods of time.

These findings are particularly harrowing when considering the treatment of children.

As recently as 2010, an inspection of the Terminal 5 holding room at Heathrow Airport found that 68 children had been held in the preceding four months, 10 of whom had been detained for over 18 hours, with the longest detention recorded as 25 hours.

In addition to the long periods of time kept in holding, many facilities were found to be in urgent need of repair, whilst others were small and cramped, and sometimes exceeded maximum capacity. In these conditions, it was found that there was often no way to hold children and families separately, requiring staff to place children with unrelated adults:

There had been an incident when a man had harassed an unaccompanied 15-year-old girl and another young woman. Staff had challenged the man but had been unable to separate him or the young people for more than a few minutes as there was nowhere else to put them.

(Heathrow Terminal 3, 2007)

As this review highlights, the duty of care required of those operating short-term holding facilities was not being sufficiently met, particularly in the context of child detention. Whilst the facilities themselves often result in cramped conditions, with few options for separation of unrelated detainees, the holding of vulnerable children for undetermined periods of time without residential requirements is an infringement of those basic human rights that we often take for granted.

It is also entirely contrary to the coalition government’s promise to end the immigration detention of children, which the Deputy Prime Minister repeated to loud fanfare in December of last year.

Barnardo’s Telephone Protest Announced

Campaigners against the opening of new family detention facilities which are to be jointly provided by the global security and prisons corporation G4S and the UK children’s charity Barnardo’s have announced a BARNADO’S TELETHON for Tuesday 26 April 2011.

London NoBorders are urging opponents of Barnardo’s involvement in the brand new detention facility at Pease Pottage in Sussex, which has the capacity to detain in excess of 1,400 people per year, to call their nearest Barnardo’s regional office on Tuesday 26th April to protest against the charity’s involvement in the detention and deportation industry.

Below are the contact numbers for all the Barnardo’s regional offices:

London and South East       020 8551 0011
South West                  0117 937 5500
Yorkshire                   0113 393 3200
Midlands                    0121 550 5271
North West                  0151 488 1100
Scotland                    0131 334 9893
Wales                       0292 049 3387
North East                  0191 240 4800
Northern Ireland            0289 067 2366

For more info about the pre-departure accommodation see:
http://london.noborders.org.uk/node/481

An end to child detention?: how a High Court judgement brings us closer

Simon Parker

This article originally appeared in openDemocracy, 13 January 2011.

In the High Court on Tuesday, Mr Justice Wyn Williams might have driven the last nail into the coffin of Britain’s infamous and long-running child immigration detention policy. The detaining of children for immigration purposes has been denounced as a ‘scandal’ and a ‘moral outrage’ by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, yet the current Home Secretary has spared no expense in expertly and robustly defending the policy.

The action was brought at the end of last year by Public Interest Lawyers on behalf of a Malaysian family of three and a Nigerian mother and her baby. Liberty and Bail for Immigration Detainees supported the action (Suppiah and Others vs SSHD and Others). In a judgment that noted Nick Clegg’s repeated disavowal of child detention as morally repugnant, the judge found that:

“The Defendant’s current policy relating to detaining families with children is not unlawful. There is, nonetheless, a significant body of evidence which demonstrates that employees of UKBA have failed to apply that policy with the rigour it deserves.”

Specifically, the UK Border Agency were held to have breached the families’ rights to liberty, privacy and family life (their Article 5 and Article 8 rights), though not Article 3, which relates to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The Home Office does not contest that both families were arrested in the early hours of the morning, were given only a short time to pack, transported in locked and caged vans, and that a very young girl was body searched with her arms outstretched to the obvious distress of her mother.

Reetha Suppiah and her two sons, and Sakinat Bello and her baby, were then locked up at the infamous Yarl’s Wood Detention centre. As with many thousands of families to be sent there, soon after being taken into detention the children became sick and suffered from diarrhoea and vomiting. Reetha’s eldest son continues to suffer from a fear of authority and recalls seeing ‘policemen everywhere’ in detention.

In finding that “the detention of children is not something which should ever be lightly countenanced or allowed to continue except in such circumstances which clearly justify it and which do not reasonably permit of alternatives”, Justice Williams gave a clear and resounding rebuke to the policy of previous home secretaries, immigration ministers and their senior civil servants. Read more

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