Category: Medical Justice

Ending child detention – the most achievable human rights goal?

TOM SANDERSON, THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE ICHRP BLOG ON 28 NOVEMBER 2011

Human rights issues are notoriously controversial. Debates rage around numerous issues, not least the validity and universality of human rights themselves. However, the detention of children for immigration purposes stands out as one human rights issue for which there is a remarkable extent of consensus, in both the damage it causes and the need for action to bring it to an end.

Several studies have shown beyond doubt the severe psychological damage and physical danger that child detention leads to, even where that detention is for very short periods of time. Such studies have been reported in the British Journal Child Abuse and Neglect, and Australian psychiatric journals. Numerous accounts have been reported of children self-harming and attempting suicide in detention centres in the UK alone, while other reports identify the mental health problems that can occur in later life as a result of periods of detention.

These are children, we must remember, who have committed no offence and broken no law. The only reason for their detention is that their parents have applied for asylum in our country. Furthermore, it is widely accepted that among undocumented migrants, children and families with children are some of the least likely candidates for absconding. Even David Wood of the UKBA admitted this to the Home Affairs Select Committee back in 2009.

The campaign group ‘End Child Detention Now’ is one of a huge number of groups working on this issue just in the UK. Many more provide similar opposition across Europe and indeed the world. Here, we have had assurances from the UK coalition government that the practice that Deputy PM Nick Clegg has called ‘state-sponsored cruelty’ would end.

So, given this widespread opposition to the practice and general agreement from those in power, it is surprising that entirely innocent children can still be detained in the UK, due only to the arbitrary lottery of nationality. While the government has taken some action to reduce the practice, there is no real end in sight.

Government promises count for little, as we have seen first-hand. This is why a concerted effort must be made to apply as much pressure as possible during the Ministerial Level meeting of all UN member states at the UNHCR in Geneva next month. This meeting is taking place to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the 1961 Refugee Convention, on the 7th and 8th December, and it is a perfect opportunity to convince our governments to make international commitments to ending child detention.

Further action:
The International Detention Coalition is running a letter-writing campaign in coordination with the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, and Amnesty International, and you can find out more about this here. They have a template letter, adaptable to your organisation and national situation, which can be downloaded here.

End Child Detention Now Campaigner Clare Sambrook Wins Paul Foot Award

Clare Sambrook, novelist and journalist, has won the 2010 Paul Foot Award for her writing and reporting in support of the campaign to end child immigration detention. Thanking the judges for this ‘massive honour’, Clare told the audience at the Guardian/Private Eye ceremony at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in London this evening that “reading Paul Foot’s books when I was fresh out of university gave me a strong sense of what journalism could and should be.

“This is a massive honour, hugely encouraging and a real boost to the End Child Detention Now campaign at a time when the government has reneged on its commitment to stop this inhumanity.’

Clare’s journalism is rooted in End Child Detention Now, a citizens’ campaign to end the scandal of child detention by the UK immigration authorities — formed in July 2009 by six friends. End Child Detention Now members working unpaid and unfunded: persuaded 121 MPs to sign a parliamentary motion calling for the end of child detention; held vigils and demonstrations in London, York and Dagenham; support families in detention and on their release; addressed the Church of England Synod Public Affairs Council; collaborate with campaign groups including Shpresa, Refugee & Migrant Justice, SOAS Detainee Support, Women for Refugee Women, Yarl’s Wood Befrienders, Welsh Refugee Council, Positive Action in Housing; coordinated a series of public letters in the national press from church leaders, novelists, children’s writers, actors & directors; prompted questions in the Commons, the Lords and the Scottish Parliament and in six months raised nearly 5000 signatures on a national online petition.

Commenting on the rising ECDN campaign towards Christmas 2009, Dr Frank Arnold, clinical director of Medical Justice and an expert in torture scars said:

‘Over many years numerous groups and individuals have attempted to combat the horrible practice of detaining children, families, torture survivors and others who have sought refuge in the UK from brutality in their homelands. The process and the justifications for detention have become ever more illogical and baroque. For the first time, we are beginning to see a truly powerful groundswell against it.’

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