Category: Damian Green
Despite coalition government pledges that the new ‘pre-departure accommodation’ in the Sussex village of Pease Pottage would be used as a ‘last resort’ and that children would normally be held for less than 72 hours, a Freedom of Information request from the campaign group ‘No-Deportations’ discovered that of the 11 children who entered Cedars pre-departure accommodation in September 2011: 3 children spent 1 day in detention, 2 spent 2 days, 2 spent 4 days, 3 spent 7 days, and the remaining child, having spent 4 days in detention was still detained as at 30 September 2011.
All six children kept imprisoned for more than 72 hours would need to have had their detention personally approved by Immigration Minister, Damian Green, a man who rashly promised that he would dress up as Father Christmas if a single child was kept in detention last Christmas (one child actually was but Green did not don his Santa suit)
Of the 10 children being detained in ‘Cedars’ who left in September 2011, 7 were removed and 3 were granted temporary admission or release. This means that even by the Home Office’s own admission 30% of the children detained should never have been arrested in the first place—despite the fact that every family admitted to Pease Pottage was meant to have been vetted and approved as 100% deserving of removal by the Home Office’s so-called ‘Independent Family Returns Panel’.
The 11 children were in 8 families; including 7 single mothers and 1 mother and father. According to the Home Office, none of the children leaving Cedars in September 2011 were returned to detention again in September 2011 (the latest date for which figures have been published on occurrences of people entering detention), but we do not know if any families held in September were subsequently re-detained in October. Home Office figures for October reveal that 3 of the 7 children held under immigration powers were detained in the high security immigration removal centre Tinsley House. Unless forced to disclose data by the Freedom of Information Act – tellingly the Home Office does not release figures on the length of detention or the number of re-detentions, or those held at ports of entry for less than 24 hours.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told the Liberal Democrat conference in September that the coalition government had ended child detention. Anne Marie Carrie, Chief Executive of the children’s charity Barnardo’s, justified her charity’s involvement in the new family detention centre at Pease Pottage on the grounds that ‘children and families may need to be kept in secure pre-departure accommodation for a very short period of time’.
Given that medical evidence has demonstrated that even short periods of detention can cause significant harm to children—the fact that a leading children’s charity is complicit in detaining nine out of the eleven children held at Pease Pottage for more than 4 days is an absolute disgrace, and vindicates all the warnings that End Child Detention Now and fellow campaign groups have made about the collaboration of charities with the UK Border Agency
The New Statesman reports on a BBC investigation that government pilots involving 113 families in London and the North-West had given families with children just two weeks to voluntarily leave the country. Two families who refused to comply were taken into detention and deported shortly after and two families accepted voluntary re-settlement packages. Significantly only 3 of the 113 families involved in the pilot ceased contact with the authorities or disappeared – emphasising the extremely low probability of such families absconding.
As Samira Shackle writes, the real problem is that as a consequence of cuts to legal aid and the closure of specialist providers of legal support to refugees and asylum seekers, ‘the vast majority of people seeking asylum are not given anything resembling a fair hearing’. That appears to be of no concern to the Home Office as it prepares new tough compliance controls involving separately detaining one or other parent in order to force the family onto a flight, electronic tagging, and ‘non-detained’ accommodation new Heathrow Airport from which one assumes it will be difficult to escape.
What the BBC report fails to point out, however, is that following the coalition government’s announcement that ‘the moral outrage’ of child detention was to end, 37 children have been held in immigration detention between 1st June and 4th October according to the UKBA’s own figures.
It would appear that only the Deputy Prime Minister finds the continued incarceration of children by his Home Office colleagues disturbing. With the talk of ‘ending child detention’ shifting to Damian Green’s increasing reference to ‘minimizing detention’ – a practice the Home Secretary staunchly defended in the High Court only a week ago – it is not surprising to hear Dame Pauline Neville-Jones say that ‘I trust that we will not be in a situation in which children are detained for any length of period at all; but certainly if they were, education would be a very important factor’. In other words, we may well need to keep open Yarl’s Wood.
So much for the Deputy Prime Minister’s promise to end child detention for good. The UKBA are trying to soften up the Clegg/Huhn wing of the government for a predictable ‘there is no alternative to detention’ conclusion to yet another flawed pilot. This ill-thought out scheme has everything to do with ramping up the removal figures and nothing to do with allowing parents and children a fair hearing from a genuinely impartial justice system. It is good to hear the Children’s Society voicing its opposition to this despicable attack on vulnerable children and their families. We now need to see all the charities and NGOs who were persuaded to join the government’s flawed and cynical review to follow suit and publicly distance themselves from its punitive and dangerous consequences.
The Today report can be heard on BBC iplayer [about 50 minutes in].
As the Coalition government reappraises how the UK treats those who seek sanctuary within its borders, OurKingdom publishes an article by actor Colin Firth based on his submission to the Home Office Review into Ending the Detention of Children for Immigration Purposes.
Last month, at a Citizens UK event in London, the new immigration minister Damian Green appeared to reject the views of extremist politicians, saying he believes many asylum seekers are genuine refugees deserving of our help, that CO. I hope these principles will inform his decisions during the current review into ending child detention for immigration purposes, and that we are moving towards a humane and evidence-based asylum system.
We have a long way to go.
While this review takes place attempts are being made to remove asylum seekers to war zones in Iraq, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.
Most of these people will have been denied the opportunity to obtain the necessary proofs of their case. Their initial interviews — 17 pages in English — based on a series of questions eliciting the narrative in a non-consecutive way, may confuse the applicant. Interpretation is often inadequate. Dialects may differ. Several cases have been delayed because the individuals making the decision found the initial interviewer’s writing illegible. (One such example was reported to the Southampton MP Alan Whitehead).
The previous government cut legal aid provision to 5 hours: lawyers insist that cases require at least 18 hours to process. In hearings the presumption is often made that the person(s) concerned are lying. Attempts are made to trip them up by reference to the first interview, when they were bewildered and frightened.
Many women seeking asylum have been raped. Despite strong evidence that women do not disclose sexual violence to a male stranger, especially in front of male relatives, this is frequently the situation they find themselves in at their initial asylum interview. When, later, they disclose rape and sexual violence, they are disbelieved.
Adjudicators rarely treat the appellant with respect. Decisions are made by people who may lack understanding of in-country conditions, under pressure to achieve targets that the UKBA’s own inspector calls ‘unachievable’.
As Thomas Hammarberg, the Human Rights Commissioner for the Council of Europe said in his stinging rebuke of UK asylum policy two years ago: “celerity and quality of decision-making in the complex field of refugee law and protection are rarely a matching pair.”
Hammarberg also strongly opposed “the UK practice of aliens’ forced returns on the basis of diplomatic assurances which are inherently flawed since they are usually sought from countries with long-standing, proven records of torture and ill-treatment.”
Indeed it is hard to see the government’s logic in sending vulnerable Somalis to Mogadishu, the capital of a failed state, the world’s most violent city and a place too unsafe to have a working British Embassy.
“If we must return families to such countries,” said Chris Mullin MP, “we should take some interest in what happens to them after they have disembarked. That might involve putting some money in their pockets, employing an NGO to see them safely through the airport and back to where they came from, and perhaps a little help with reintegrating.”
Reintegration was not an issue for Adam Osman Mohammed, 32, a failed asylum-seeker returned to Darfur under a UK government repatriation scheme. Just days after arriving in his village, in full sight of his wife and four-year-old son, he was gunned down by Sudanese security officers.
Adam’s return was not a unique and terrible mistake. In April of this year Amnesty International accused Britain (along with a number of other European countries) of forcibly repatriating Iraqis to “extremely dangerous” parts of the country — in breach of United Nations guidelines.
Damian Green rightly recognised there is a need for “a general review of the asylum system … to ensure that decisions are right first time”.
But “right first time” decisions are less likely than ever since the government’s decision last month to let Refugee & Migrant Justice fail, depriving many thousands of asylum-seekers of decent legal representation. In a last ditch appeal to the government to save RMJ, the largest specialist national provider of legal representation to asylum seekers and other vulnerable migrants, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, warned: “Lives will be put at risk and there are likely to be many more miscarriages of justice – which are already common in our asylum system.”
Bishop John Packer said: “It is hard to see how any government or society with a concern for justice could allow it to cease its work.”
Lord McNally’s reassurance that the government was “giving high priority”to minimising the “disruption” in allocating the 10,000-plus cases previously managed by RMJ, is not borne out by reports from the field. There, chaos rules.
It should go without saying that the separation of parents and children must be specifically prohibited in the new arrangements for asylum-seeking families. Separation would be contrary both to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 22 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as Section 55 of the Border, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009.
Since the 1950s, when John Bowlby began to examine the impact of maternal separation on young children, our society’s whole approach to the needs of the child has been predicated on the importance of avoiding maternal / parental separation especially at times of stress when children are more vulnerable to harm (for example when they are sick or in hospital).
Yet, in spite of the clearly recorded vulnerability of child refugees and asylum seekers, (who as a consequence of being asylum seekers are likely to be experiencing material poverty, poor quality housing, discrimination, poor diets and problematic access to health and social care services), the UK Border Agency has had few qualms about separating young asylum seekers and refugees from their parents.
In his February 2010 follow up report to, The arrest and detention of children subject to immigration control, the then Children’s Commissioner for England Sir Al Aynsley-Green said: “Separating young children from their parents – even for a short time during transportation (to detention centres) – is potentially extremely damaging and should only be used in the most extreme circumstances.”
He goes on:
We have received at least three reports in which children – even very young children – have been separated from their parent when initially taken from home to the local enforcement office . . . This has the potential to be extremely damaging to the child who may not have the capacity to understand when or how they will be reunited with their parent. We have documentary evidence of the effects of this on one small child and it makes very uncomfortable reading.
It is unconscionable that our government would choose as an alternative to detention the planned and deliberate separation of a baby, child or young person from his or her parents.
Regular reporting is a cheap and effective alternative to detention. Other options could include a close link with a social worker or with a member of an approved NGO. I welcome the pilot scheme that was launched in Glasgow and which saw asylum families housed in former council flats, under a partnership between the council, the Scottish government and the UKBA. But I remain concerned that evaluation of this scheme focuses on its ability to secure higher return rates and not on the well being of the children and families concerned. David Wood of the UKBA admitted to the Home Affairs Select Committee last year that families are very unlikely to abscond:
Whilst issues are raised about absconding, that is not our biggest issue. It does happen but it is not terribly easy for a family unit to abscond.
All the evidence points to the fact that higher rates of compliance with voluntary returns will be achieved only if families who have fled danger to seek sanctuary here are permitted to dwell in the community while their cases are being considered, and are supported and kept informed of the progress of their case by dedicated case managers.
I agree with the report from Ian Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice that excellent, available legal advice, the trustworthiness of the workers they have contact with, and support — not destitution — are the conditions most likely to achieve the voluntary returns the government is seeking.
Any civilised nation should respond this way to those who seek sanctuary. Families who are to be returned should be treated with dignity and respect; they are, in the words of the Bishop of Southwark, not worthless scroungers to be despised but, “men and women who are anxious and frightened and trying to keep body and soul together in a strange land.”
I call on the government to end the immigration detention of children and to adopt more humane alternatives that recognise the rights of all children to be treated with dignity and respect. Families should never be left destitute. Central to any fair and just alternative would be community-based access to housing, food, clothing, health and social care, alongside good quality legal representation.
The lack of understanding around asylum seekers, and the climate of suspicion so easily stirred up by media and politicians, has seeped into the culture of the legal system and the enforcement process.
We need to elevate the human and civil rights status of innocent asylum seekers to at least the level we accord our criminals.
Colin Firth is an actor and activist and co-founder of Brightwide — the website for social and political cinema. With thanks to Clare Sambrook, Esme Madill, Simon Parker, Professor John Mellor, Dennis Cook and Dr Shirley Firth.
Immigration Minister Damian Green’s invitation to submit evidence to the government’s review of child immigration detention ended on 1 July 2010. End Child Detention Now’s submission can be read in full here. Please visit the Review page for submissions from other organisations and concerned individuals – more will be added as we receive them. A summary of ECDN’s submission follows:
Summary of End Child Detention Now’s Submission to the Home Office/Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund Review into ENDING THE DETENTION OF CHILDREN FOR IMMIGRATION PURPOSES.
We are conscious that a number of other agencies and organisations have direct experience of working with detained asylum seeker families, so in what follows we reprise the key evidence that has been presented in the last twelve months on the significant harm that even short periods of detention can have on children and young people.
We agree with 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 argue that 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. Another issue is the lack of contact with families or information on assisted voluntary return prior to the issuance of removal notices.
We note 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.
New immigration plans will end child detention but we should be wary of substituting one form of state abuse with another.
Simon Parker, Comment is Free, The Guardian, Friday 28 May 2010.
The announcement in Tuesday’s Queen’s speech that along with a cap on non-EU immigration, the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat government no longer intends to detain children under immigration control powers comes as a welcome boost to the many thousands of concerned citizens who have signed petitions, lobbied their MPs and parliamentary candidates, written to the local and national press, and organised vigils and demonstrations in order to bring this shameful practice to an end.
However, before we begin any premature celebrations, there are some troubling aspects of the new coalition agreement that deserve especially careful scrutiny. The first point is that Nick Clegg and his team rightly sought to insist that the declaration would commit to ending the detention of families, but the Conservatives struck this out and insisted that the no-detention policy would apply only to children.
Damian Green also declared that while the review was underway, the existing policy of detaining children would remain in place, despite the fact that the government now appears to accept that the practice of detaining children is harmful and unwarranted. The shocking case of the arrest and detention of Sehar Shahbaz and her eight-month-old baby in Dungavel and their nine-hour journey in a prison van to Yarl’s Wood, which Colin Firth highlighted in a letter to the Guardian, if anything suggests a hardening of minds rather than the “changed mindset” that Sir Al Aynsley Green has called for in the Home Office.
Indeed, an Iranian family of five, including the pregnant mother, were arrested and detained on the day it was announced child detention was due to end – and were issued with removal instructions to a brutal regime whose response to political dissent involves torture, lengthy jail sentences and state execution.
Campaigners should at least take heart that the review is about to start soon and that it is expected to conclude within weeks rather than months. But as yet there is no commitment to a timetable for implementing any alternatives to detention, or a promise not to arrest and detain families in the meantime.
A major concern for refugee, asylum and children’s welfare organisations is the clear implication that by agreeing only to spare children from detention, the Home Office is considering the option of taking children into care while their parents are detained. This would be to substitute one form of state child abuse with another, and would not only be contrary to article 8 of the European convention on human rights, it would be opposed, one would hope, by every local safeguarding children board and director of social services in the country – not least because it would make social workers complicit in damaging rather than protecting the welfare of the child.
Government turns its back on hundreds of requests to save Sehar: Friends from Glasgow bid a tearful farewell to mother & baby.
This is the text of Positive Action’s Statement to Supporters of the Sehar must stay in Scotland campaign.
Sehar Shebaz was deported on a PIA flight at 17:00 HRS today. Friends from Glasgow took a bus down to say goodbye to her at the airport and to take her the few belongings that were left behind in her flat when she was detained by Brand Street Reporting Centre last week. Dr Imtiaz Rasul and his family from Birmingham also went to say goodbye at the airport. Dr Imtiaz said:
It was really terrible. Sehar looked very small and quiet. She had security officers and police around her as if she was a criminal. It was truly humiliating to say goodbye to her like that. Other people in the airport were watching. Sehar told us to say thankyou to everyone, she tried to smile but in front of police we could feel what she was feeling. My country takes in more asylum seekers than the UK. If the UK only wants to humiliate people then why have an asylum policy, just tell people dont come here. I feel very sad for Sehar and her baby was just upset. We hope in her hearts that her pain does not continue but we are very worried about what might happen.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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: email@example.com 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.