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
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.
A busy fortnight for End Child Detention Now began with a post by Simon Parker on 16 November in OpenDemocracy – On Her Majesty’s Deceitful Service: The Woolas Case and the Ignoble Lies of the British State.
This was followed by a letter in reply to MP Tom Brake’s defence of the Lib Dem’s role in ‘ending child detention’ – without actually ending it in The Guardian on 18 November.
The Media Show on Wednesday 24 November featured an interview with Clare Sambrook on the ECDN media campaign and winning the Foot and Bevins prizes for investigative journalism. Clare also published a long feature on the history of the End Child Detention Campaign, Children seek the final exit from house of nightmares, in today’s Times (Saturday 27 November) [requires subscription].
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.
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 email@example.com).
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: firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
ECDN is urging all its supporters to cast their votes for the candidates most likely to support a ban on holding children in immigration detention centres in the next parliament—whichever party or parties form the next government. If government ministers think they can lock children up without suffering any electoral consequences, they should think again, as this excellent local campaign from Liberal Democrat candidate Dave Raval (pictured) in Hackney South and Shoreditch—the seat currently held by Child Detention Minister Meg Hillier—demonstrates.
How ironic that the Labour MP in neighbouring Hackney North and Stoke Newington, Diane Abbott has been a stalwart campaigner for getting women and children out of Yarl’s Wood while Hillier has been busy making up ludicrous stories about why thousands more children need to be locked up. There should be no safe seats for politicians who trample on the human rights of innocent families fleeing persecution. Work to elect and support candidates like Dave and Diane who have pledged to end child detention and urge all those who are unfortunate enough to have Woolas and Hillier for MPs to reject them at the ballot box on May 6th.
The Guardian newspaper in its online edition, carries a report by Diane Taylor and Hugh Muir highlighting the shocking allegations of a former caseworker, at the UKBA office in Cardiff. The former UKBA employee, Louise Perrett, claimed that asylum seekers were mistreated, tricked and humiliated by staff working for the UK Border Agency. Ms Perrett reveals how
- staff kept a stuffed gorilla, a “grant monkey”, which was placed as a badge of shame on the desk of any officer who approved an asylum application
- boys from African countries who said they had been forcibly conscripted as child soldiers were made to lie down on the floor and demonstrate how they shot at people in the bush
- one method used to determine the authenticity of an asylum seeker claiming to be from North Korea was to ask whether the person ate chop suey
- interviews were conducted without lawyers, independent witnesses or tape recorders
One manager said of the asylum-seeker clients: “If it was up to me I’d take them all outside and shoot them.”
Another told her this was to be expected, adding: “No one in this office is very PC. In fact everyone is the exact opposite.”
Home Affairs Select Committee Chair, Keith Vaz said: “I am deeply concerned by a number of ex-UKBA workers who have spoken out about flaws in the points-based system and behaviour such as this. I will be writing to the chief executive, Lin Homer, to discover what steps are being taken to remedy this culture of disbelief and discrimination.”
Open letter to Gordon Brown
Nick Clegg 15/12/09
I am writing to urge you to stop the scandal of hundreds of very young children, including toddlers, spending this Christmas locked up behind bars in Immigration Centres in Britain.
One of the best ways to judge the moral compass of a nation is how we treat children – all children.
There is now concrete evidence that the very young children who find themselves locked up even though they’ve done nothing wrong are suffering weight loss, post traumatic stress disorder and long lasting mental distress.
How on earth can your Government justify what is in effect state sponsored cruelty?
Of course we must keep track of adults who are seeking asylum in this country, and deport them where justified. But this can be done through other means.
It is simply indefensible to do so at the cost of the mental and physical wellbeing of very young children.
I would also ask you to lift the paranoid Government secrecy which surrounds the work of the Immigration Centres. Your Government has consistently refused to provide total figures of the number of children detained.
This attempt to cover up such a morally reprehensible practice only makes matters worse.
The British people want us to take a world lead in the way we treat toddlers and children, not to inflict systematic cruelty on them behind a veil of Government secrecy.
I look forward to your urgent reply.
Read the full Daily Mail story by Jason Groves here