Category: 2010 election

In Nick Clegg’s fantasy world, child detention in the UK has ended

ESMÉ MADILL & SIMON PARKER, THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN OPENDEMOCRACY ON 27 SEPTEMBER 2011

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told his fellow Liberal Democrats at the party’s conference in Birmingham to “hold your heads up and look our critics squarely in the eye”.

Among the many things that Liberal Democrats can be proud of when squaring up to their critics, Clegg told delegates, was that child detention has “ended”.

Michael Moore, the Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Scotland, was a little more circumspect. Borrowing — perhaps inadvertently — from Star Trek, he declared: “We have ended child detention as we know it.”

In a similar vein, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesman, Tom Brake, writing in the Guardian last month, rejected Natasha Walter’s charge that the government had reneged on its “we will end child detention” coalition pledge (Walter said detention was “making a comeback”), but Brake admitted:

The planned new centre at Pease Pottage does have “a locked environment for … families “…This will only be for up to 72 hours, in the rare cases where a family refuses to leave the country voluntarily, and children will be allowed out of the centre after a risk assessment and with proper supervision.

‘The Cedars’ pre-departure accommodation at Pease Pottage, we are reassured by Barnardo’s chief executive Anne Marie Carrie, “has ambitions to be fundamentally different” from notorious immigration detention centres like Dungavel and Yarl’s Wood. We can be sure of that because the 29 Barnardo’s staff who will be supervising the child detainees have been told they must seek to “safeguard children and treat families and children with compassion”.

Pease Pottage is certainly ‘safe’ and well–guarded, boasting locked accommodation behind a high perimeter fence with security staff on duty 24 hours a day. In order to ensure their safety, children will be ‘compassionately’ searched on arrival according to ‘the Cedars’ operating manual.

Fingers-crossed, the children won’t enquire about the discretely locked cupboards accessible only to security staff that contain ‘suicide prevention kits’, (anti-ligature knifes are recommended by HM Inspector of Prisons). Care staff and security guards will carry swipe cards at all times to enable them to pass between the detainees’ rooms and the controlled areas of the facility. In keeping with a ‘family feel’ environment, security staff will have access to all areas at all times. Visitors, on the other hand, will be restricted to the visitors’ lounge to which detainees will be escorted and returned by G4S guards.

G4S is a global security company with a multi-billion pound turnover, which specialises in managing prisons, detention centres and escorting prisoners and detainees. A recent Chief Inspector of Prisons report found that G4S escorts showed “a shamefully unprofessional and derogatory attitude”, and used unnecessary force and racist language. G4S employees, until recently, included the three men arrested in the case of Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan deportee, who died on a British Airways plane in October last year while being ‘removed’ by G4S. Other passengers described how Mubenga was forcibly restrained as he complained he could not breathe.

G4S also manages the contract for Tinsley House near Gatwick Airport where two years ago a 10-year-old Nigerian girl was found strangling herself with the cord of an electric kettle. The expensively refurbished Tinsley House will continue to detain children in so-called ‘border turn around’ cases or where the parent or guardian is being deported following completion of a prison sentence or because they are considered too dangerous or disruptive to be held in the ‘family friendly’ accommodation at Pease Pottage.

The Liberal Democrat election manifesto pledged to do so much more than ending child detention. Asylum seekers would be permitted to work, “saving taxpayers’ money and allowing them the dignity of earning their living”. And there was the promised amnesty for “people who have been in Britain for 10 years, speak English, have a clean record and want to live here long term to earn their citizenship”.

All these pledges have come to nothing. But luckily Clegg can look us squarely in the eye because “child detention has ended”.

While Moore, Brake and Clegg may be able to spot the difference in the child detention we knew — the one that Clegg labelled “shameful” less than a year ago in his December speech to London Citizens — and the rebadged, rebranded, repackaged ‘pre departure accommodation’ at Pease Pottage, can anyone else?

It’s your truth Nick – but not as the rest of us know it.

UKBA arrests and imprisons an 8 month old baby days after government pledges to end child detention

Last night an 8 month old baby and her mother were arrested, taken from their home and forcibly detained in Dungavel immigration removal centre in Scotland.

So what’s going on..?

On 12 May, the new government said, ‘We will end the detention of children for immigration purposes’.

There was nothing in the declaration to indicate that the process would be anything other than swift or immediate. Then on Monday 16 May, Damian Green, the newly appointed immigration minister, announced:

Our coalition government is committed to ending the detention of children for immigration purposes, we think this is the right thing to do. I hope that we can have plans agreed within the next few months.

I am launching a comprehensive review of alternatives to child detention, including opening a dialogue with relevant stakeholders, organisations and experts.

This work has already started, because it is in all our interests, including those children currently in detention, to do it quickly, but to also do it well and safely.

While keeping children’s welfare at the heart of what we do, our government is committed to returning those with no right to stay in the UK

Green then added in a statement to the BBC:

Whilst this immediate review is ongoing, current policy remains in place.

Let’s be clear. There is not a single reputable, independent medical or psychological study that will show the detention of children to be anything other than harmful and abusive.

Sir Al Aynsley-Green, the paediatrician who, as the first Children’s Commissioner for England, did more than any single person to expose the arrest and detention of innocent children, the injustices and sheer horror of their lived experiences, said:

I am looking for two things: A demonstration of intent by releasing those currently held, not least because absconding is not an issue. Within weeks rather than months produce robust proposals. Detention is inhumane and shocking and there is no place for it in a country that claims to be civilised.

Stakeholders, organisations and experts should make it clear that child welfare is the absolute priority and that no child’s interest can be served by being detained even for the 72 hours which the Home Office continues misleadingly to claim is the maximum period of detention in Tinsley House.

We are witnessing an orchestrated attempt to co-opt children’s charities and refugee and asylum seeker welfare organisations in the hope that by including them in dialogue and a pledge of future action the new administration will secure their silence and compliance.

Now is the time for all those individuals, groups, parties and organisations who genuinely want to see an IMMEDIATE END to the scandal of child immigration detention to mobilise and vocalise their anger and opposition to the imprisonment of baby Wanda and her mother Shehar, and the many other innocent victims of this brutal and unnecessary denial of basic human rights (if you would like to find out more about Shehar and Wanda contact Glasgow Unity at info@unitycentreglasgow.org).

WHAT YOU CAN DO

  • Lobby your MPs, especially if you have a Conservative or Liberal Democrat member of parliament, (you can find details via theyworkforyou). A model letter can be found at the top of this website.
  • Call Damian Green’s office on 020 7219 3518, fax 020 7219 0904 or email: greend@parliament.uk and demand to know why babies and children continue to be arrested and detained when the government pledged to stop it.
  • Write to the national and local press expressing your anger that the government is failing to honour this most easily achieved and humanitarian of its coalition pledges.
  • Keep checking our website for details of actions we will be taking up and down the country in the run up to refugee week to highlight the continuing abuse of children by the UK immigration authorities.

Get Behind the Sanctuary Pledge!

End Child Detention Now is urging all its supporters to get behind the inspiring Citizens for Sanctuary prospective parliamentary candidate pledge campaign which is especially emphasising the scandalous detention of children by the UK immigration authorities. Dozens of PPCs have signed up to the pledge – but many more have yet to declare their support.

You can check the list of candidates who have pledged so far by clicking here.

This is why we need you to contact candidates in your constituency and to urge them to join the pledge. You can find a list of the candidates in your constituency by visiting the your next mp website. If a particular candidate has not signed the pledge email or call them to ask them why – the your next mp site provides contact details in most cases. Let us know what the candidates say or even if they decline to comment by dropping us a line at info@ecdn.org

So far the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, and Respect have committed themselves as political parties to end child detention (other parties are invited to join this list by emailing us). However, the two largest parties in the previous parliament, Labour and the Conservatives have not given such an assurance, which is why it is so important to find out the views of individual candidates.

End Child Detention Now has no political affiliations but we know we speak for many thousands of voters in demanding that immigration gulags such as Dungavel, Yarl’s Wood and Tinsley House should be shut down. People are dying in detention centres and threatening to take their own lives – how can we call ourselves a civilised democracy when our government abuses human rights on a daily basis?

If your sitting MP condones this misery then send them packing, and if their would be replacements won’t commit to ending child detention please don’t give them your vote either.

This is our greatest chance to return a parliament that upholds the principle of refuge and that all children’s rights are for all children. Together with our friends and fellow campaigners let’s pledge to end child detention now!

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