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.
As the government announces that Dungavel will no longer be used for the detention of children, but will be re-purposed as ‘a health check’ facility for families who are facing removal, young mother Sehar Shebaz and her baby are being transported in a prison van to Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire from where the Home Office plans to deport her to Pakistan where she faces violent retribution from her husband’s family after fleeing from domestic violence.
Sehar said: “I told them please don’t send me and my baby in the van for nine hours she is too young, I asked them to speak to my lawyer. But she (Dungavel staff member) just told me, “Look either you go in the van or we will take your baby in a separate van and you wont see her until you get to Yarl’s Wood.”
Robina Qureshi from Positive Action in Housing, Glasgow who has been campaigning on behalf of the family stated:
The new announcement about ending child detention in Scotland means nothing for Sehar, families are simply being driven hundreds of miles and being locked up in Yarl’s Wood in England. The victory was very hollow and we have won no concessions in this case. Please could you use whatever power you possess to stop Sehar and her baby being taken to Yarl’s Wood this morning.
Please express your concern at the treatment of Sehar Shebaz and her baby and call for their immediate release and return to Glasgow.
Danny Alexander, Secretary of State for Scotland email@example.com
First Minister Alex Salmond firstname.lastname@example.org
Tavish Scott, leader of the Lib Dems MSPs email@example.com
Nick Clegg, Lib Dems leader firstname.lastname@example.org
Tam Baillie, Childrens Commissioner email@example.com
On Wednesday 2 December the Scottish Parliament held a business debate on the detention of children at Dungavel immigration removal centre. The debate, sponsored by SNP MSP Sandra White (Glasgow) revealed an unprecedented cross-party consensus against detaining children in immigration removal centres such as Dungavel.
However, the progress the Scottish government thought it had made in halting the detention of children in Scotland has proved somewhat illusory. As Sandra White told the chamber:
Last year’s commitment to limit the detention of children in Scotland to a maximum of 72 hours appeared at the time to be a step forward. Unfortunately, the measure has simply resulted in children being taken from their homes to Dungavel, held for the maximum 72 hours and then transferred to Yarl’s Wood in England after that period has expired.
This is a cynical manipulation of the Home Office’s undertaking to the Scottish government to limit the detention of children and a shocking indictment of the UKBA’s claim that children’s welfare is paramount. As Sandra White continued:
The lip service that has been paid to the agreement and the way in which the Home Office is getting round the commitment that it made is shameful and totally unacceptable.