Category: London NoBorders

The UK continues to detain children, a year after the Coalition’s pledge to end it

Simon Parker

(This article originally appeared in openDemocracy on 11 May 2011)

A year ago, the coalition pledged to halt all child detention by this very day. Yet the recent news that six children were held in three separate detention facilities by the UK Border Agency in March comes as no surprise to campaigners who have warned that the UKBA is deliberately flouting Nick Clegg’s pledge to end the ‘moral outrage’ of child detention.

Home Office statistics reveal that four children — one aged under five — were held in Tinsley House, near Gatwick Airport in March 2011. An older teenager was held at Gatwick’s Brook House and a child aged between 12 and 16 was detained at Colnbrook, the Harmondsworth facility built to category B prison standard. In February a child aged between 12 and 16, believed to be unaccompanied, was held at the Campsfield House immigration removal centre for adult males near Oxford.

This month new ‘pre-departure accommodation’ is due to open in a former special needs school in the village of Pease Pottage near Gatwick. Tinsley House is being expensively refurbished as a high security detention facility to accommodate families deemed too “disruptive” for Pease Pottage – in other words, anyone who protests against alleged mistreatment or lack of due process, including those engaging in hunger strikes.

Central to the Border Agency’s planning application to Mid Sussex County Council was that the new facility at Pease Pottage will ‘have a homely feel’. ’Most importantly. . . the facility will be part-operated by a well known national children’s charity [Barnardo’s], who are already working with the UKBA in relation to its design and way it will function.’

The Council took on trust the UKBA’s claim that ‘the security for the site will not be greatly different to the existing school’. Homely design functions include a 2.3m perimeter fence, floodlighting, CCTV, internal and external room locks, and a new internal fenced ‘buffer [area]…to prevent the opportunity for people with access to the boundary fence from having contact with the occupants’.

Little mention was made in the public planning hearing that the firm responsible for security will be G4S—a company that may face corporate manslaughter charges as a consequence of the tragic death of Jimmy Mubenga while being restrained by four of its security guards on a flight to Angola.

A number of charities and campaign organisations who took part in the government’s child detention review process last summer feel frustrated and betrayed by the UKBA whose real agenda has never changed from regarding detention and enforced removal as a key aspect of immigration control. But few have publicly opposed the coalition government’s enforced returns policy for families, or the retention of Tinsley House as a family detention facility, or the opening of Pease Pottage.

Other groups have gone beyond passivity and thrown their weight behind the government’s new detention policy. Citizens UK, the self-styled ‘home of community organising in Britain’, has, bizarrely, claimed credit for single-handedly ending child detention, while collaborating with the UKBA, specifically helping to ensure that asylum seekers go quietly. Citizens UK is identifying ‘community sponsors . . . who have a pre-existing relationship of trust . . .with an asylum seeker’, offering ‘ongoing, pastoral support to the individual/family going through the asylum process which is of benefit to both the applicant and UKBA’.

By contrast, the ‘Keep Your Promise’ campaign, launched at the beginning of the year by End Child Detention Now, has resulted in over 2,000 postcards being sent to 10 Downing Street from dozens of faith groups, refugee community organisations and local Student Action for Refugees groups calling on Cameron and Clegg to honour their commitment to end child detention. A parallel campaign against the collaboration of Barnardo’s with the detention of children has successfully targeted the charity’s network of shops and fund-raising events.

The UKBA says the new system’s fairness and kindness will be ensured by a new ‘Independent Family Returns Panel’ providing ‘independent advice . . . on the method of removal . . . of individual families when an ensured return is necessary’. Yet the panel has no powers to challenge or overturn a decision to seek removal, and the UKBA or the immigration minister can ignore its advice, if for example the panel recommends that a family should not be detained.

The new chairman of the Independent Family Returns Panel is Chris Spencer, who was made redundant from his  £120,000+ post as director of Children’s Services at Hillingdon Council in February. While seeking to assure Children and Young People Now that he has not always seen ‘eye to eye’ with the UKBA, Spencer nevertheless envisaged circumstances in which ‘detention at Tinsley House’ could be ‘used as a last resort’ for families if ‘every other avenue’ has ‘been explored fully prior to detention of the whole family’.

Chris Spencer’s new job reprises his role as joint chair of a QUANGO known as the ADCS/ADASS Asylum Seekers Task Force on which representatives from the UKBA and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services met to discuss and plan UK asylum policy, and in particular the safeguarding and welfare of children.

Spencer’s fellow joint chair at ADCS/ADASS, Pauline Newman (formerly Director of Children’s Services at Manchester City Council), has also been chosen by the government to serve on the Independent Family Returns Panel along with John Donaldson, former head of Immigration and Emergency Services at Glasgow City Council and Philip Ishola head of the Asylum and Immigration Service at the London Borough of Harrow, all of whom were previously members of the Asylum Seekers Task Force.

In its contribution to the Review into Ending the Detention of Children for Immigration Purposes the Asylum Seekers Task Force (along with the English, Welsh and Scottish Local Government Associations) set out its position on the detention of children and families. Far from seeing its role as defending and protecting vulnerable children and families, it is clear that the members of the Task Force, including the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, sought to push for a more aggressive and proactive stance to enforced family removals by the Home Office:

While it is accepted that removal of families that do not wish to leave can be extremely difficult, it is suggested that UKBA must put more resource and effort into increasing the removal rate of failed asylum seekers. A more proactive removal and enforcement policy to address key issues in removing unsuccessful asylum seekers is needed to reinforce the message that not complying does have consequences.

And what might those consequences involve?

In short: the detention of children.

Referring to the pre-existing child detention policy in Scotland, the Asylum Seekers Task Force and the Welsh, Scottish and English Local Government Associations remarked:

The government may wish to consider placing limits on the use of detaining children, while they develop alternatives. This could include limiting the use of detention to families who are immediately removable and for a short, limited period of time. Children should not, under any circumstances, be transported from Scotland to Yarlswood [sic] to be detained. It may be appropriate to make the decision to detain subject to external review.

In other words, despite the government’s stated policy not to detain children, the body whose senior membership overlaps with the new so-called Independent Family Returns Panel thinks that the detention of children should be ‘limited’ rather than abolished, and only when and if the government thinks it appropriate. The same ‘if it pleases the minister’ approach applies even to the policy of externally reviewing the decision to detain.

When the formal recruitment to the ‘independent’ panel starts next month, the UKBA will once again be doing the recruiting.

Some final questions for Anne Marie Carrie, the Barnardo’s chief executive who insists she will speak out if children are ‘routinely detained’ in the ‘homely’ surroundings of the Pease Pottage pre-removal detention facility.

If, as claimed, families will be detained only as a ‘last resort’, why is the Independent Family Returns Panel scheduled to meet twice a week and why will the new facility operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week all year round? And how many children’s drawings of security guards dragging parents into vans will the charity’s play workers pin on the wall before Ms Carrie speaks out against, or better still gets out of the detention trade?

ECDN delighted by support for “Keep Your Promise…” launch

Dozens of supporters from across London and much further afield joined with End Child Detention Now and Shpresa Programme on Saturday 26 March to launch the “Keep Your Promise…” video and to hear speakers discuss the campaign to end child detention and the prospects for a genuine end to detention in light of the government’s unveiling of plans for new ‘pre departure accommodation’ for asylum seeking families near Crawley in W. Sussex and the upgrading of Tinsley House as a secure facility for ‘high risk families’.

Esme Madill who spoke about the history of the ECDN campaign and the new “Keep Your Promise…” initiative said that she was delighted with the turn-out – especially given the transport disruption as a consequence of the TUC March for the Alternative demonstration from which many of those attending had just arrived. Esme urged all those present to remember the often irreparable harm that arrest and detention does to children and their parents and explained why it was even more important in light of the government’s announcement that it intended to end child detention to keep Nick Clegg and David Cameron to their word. Over 1,700 postcards had been sent to No 10 Downing Street so far and many more have been requested by faith groups, voluntary organisations and concerned citizens across the UK.

Esme was followed by the Co-Director of the Children’s Legal Centre, Syd Bolton, who provided a fascinating insight into the government’s child detention review. He reported that despite the initial euphoria that child detention was finally coming to and end, many charities and campaign organisations had reluctantly begun to qualify their enthusiasm in the knowledge that the UKBA was intent on maintaining the power to detain children and families as an essential component of  immigration control. However, the existence of Section 55 of the 2009 Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act, and recent landmark judgments in the UK Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights finally appeared to give firm legal basis to the principle that the best interests of the child must take precedence over immigration controls in all but the most extreme circumstances.

James Fisher then spoke on behalf of Student Action for Refugees and told the audience why the campaign to end child detention had been such an important cause for student campaigners for refugee rights for many years. The beauty of the Keep Your Promise… campaign lay in its simple affirmation of the need for the government to stay true to its commitment, he said. Signing and sending a postcard was a simple act that James hoped thousands of students would give their support to in the weeks and months ahead. Manuel Nashi’s campaign video was a highlight of the evening – especially the interviews with young former refugees who had experienced detention at different times in their journey to the UK. It was only the latest manifestation of the extraordinary support that the Shpresa Programme had provided to the campaign and Shpresa’s director Luljeta Nuzi and Ella gave a moving account of the involvement of Shpresa’s young people, service users and volunteers in numerous petitions, vigils, hand printing sessions and demonstrations in support of the cause.

Finally, Rich Alexander from London NoBorders spoke about the UKBA’s plans to convert a former special needs school in Pease Pottage near Crawley into a new secure detention facility. He explained the background to the involvement of the hotel chain Arora which is seeking to move into the lucrative immigration detention facility industry and how the security for Pease Pottage would be provided by G4S, the global security giant which has been widely criticized for its management of Tinsley House and previously of the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. G4S could also be facing corporate manslaughter charges for the non-accidental death of immigration deportee Jimmy Mubenga on board a flight to Angola in October of last year. After a lively and informative question and answer session the evening ended with a spirited dance and poetry perfomance by the young people of Shpresa and a rousing chant of  “Keep Your Promise…”

Arora Hotels Back in Deportation Business

From London NoBorders 31 January 2011

London NoBorders has received information that THE hotel Company Arora
International [1] has started a second attempt to make money from the
Home Office’s deportation business. The company plans to use the site
of a residential school for children with behavioural and learning
difficulties in Pease Pottage, Crawley, Sussex owned by the Arora Group
subsidiary “The Crossroads Childrens (sic) Education Services Ltd.”,
into an immigration detention facility. It is the second attempt by
Arora Hotels to extend their business into detention following the
company’s failure to gain planning permission to turn one of their
hotels in Crawley into a holding facility for immigrants in 2010. [2]
Crawley Forest School has been told to vacate the property by 1 April
2011.

The facility is located in Pease Pottage just outside Crawley.
According to the letter from consultant firm CGMS Consulting [3] the
location would be excellent due to its close proximity to Gatwick
airport. Locals will be surprised to learn that Arora plans to push the
whole planning process through within the next few weeks, filing the
application this week and expecting the facility to be open by 11 May.

The letter makes no secret that the facility is planned to replace the
use of Yarl’s Wood and nearby Tinsley House detention facilities for
holding families and children, and explicitly refers to this fact as an
explanation of the need for urgency. The letter also explicitly refers
to children inside the holding centre. Not only is the UKBA extending
their detention capacity, but the government is also breaking their
pledge to end the detention of children.

Rosie Young of London NoBorders stated: “Arora seems to be attempting
to move into the immigration detention business at any price. this time
they want to do it quickly and silently.”

Thomas Harburg of London NoBorders added: “”It is obvious what trick the
Home Office is playing here.It does not matter what they call
this facility, if you are forced to be held in a building with a fence
around it, waiting to be deported, it is another immigration detention
facility. All that talk about the ending of the detention of children
and families was just a media stunt”

London NoBorders, who have campaigned against Arora in 2009/10,
announced today that they will immediately start a campaign against the
new facility. “If Arora thought they get this through without anybody
noticing it,” says Rosie Young, “they have failed”.

For any further enquiries, please contact:
Email: noborderslondon@riseup.net
Tel: 07535319119
http://london.noborders.org.uk

[1] www.arorahotels.com
[2] http://london.noborders.org.uk/arora
[3] a copy of the letter can be found at:
http://london.noborders.org.uk/sites/default/files/Crawley_Forest_School_Letter.pdf

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