“Video of asylum seekers being loaded on to flights to Malaysia will be posted on facebook and Youtube as a scare tactic to frighten off other refugees from coming to Australia illegally on boats”, according to Sky News Australia.
“Every step of the 54 latest arrivals, picked up off the coast of Western Australia on Sunday, will be filmed and then immediately posted online”.
The Australian government’s crude attempt to terrorise would be asylum seekers from making the hazardous see crossing from Indonesia to Christmas Island is but a further example of the Gillard government’s increasingly inhumane approach to the treatment of undocumented migrants.
The Age newspaper reported that as many as 19 unaccompanied minors are due to be processed for deportation to Malaysia – one third of a contingent of 55 that had arrived by boat on Christmas Island since the ‘get tough’ policy had been announced.
To ensure that no passengers can escape their forcible removal to Malaysia, local riot police had been sent to the recently reopened Phosphate Hill detention centre in Western Australia along with a contingent of Royal Malaysian Police.
‘The United Nations’ children’s agency said it was extremely concerned unaccompanied minors may be deported from Christmas Island and called on Mr Bowen not to send them to Malaysia for processing’.
The Australian Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said the children should not be used as a deterrent for people smugglers. ”None of the 19 should be sent to a country where there are not guarantees that they will be protected from harm,” she said, saying the policy left a ”sick feeling in the stomach”.
On Tuesday 26 October, a judicial review challenge to the Government’s family detention policy reaches the High Court in London. The Claimants – two single mothers and their young children – are seeking an order declaring the Government’s family detention policy unlawful. In May 2010, the Coalition Government announced that it would end the detention of children for immigration purposes, a practice that the Deputy Prime Minister described as “a moral outrage”.
Five months on, children continue to be held at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre for indeterminate periods in prison-like conditions, the Government’s plans having stalled and been watered down. Last February, Reetha Suppiah, Sakinat Bello and their children were arrested by UK Border Agency officers in dawn raids. They and their children were loaded into vans with caged windows and driven to Yarl’s Wood in a state of confusion and distress. Reetha and her two boys (aged 1 and 11) were detained for 17 days, whilst Sakinat and her two year-old daughter were held for 12 days before being released back into the community. Both families had been reporting regularly to the immigration authorities prior to their arrest. Upon arrival at Yarl’s Wood, all of the children became sick, suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting.
It appears that the welfare needs of the families were not properly taken into account or even assessed prior to the decision to detain, and the detention experience has had a profound effect upon them. Reetha’s eldest child was particularly badly affected and recalls seeing “policemen everywhere” in Yarl’s Wood. Since his release, he has lived in continuous fear of re-arrest. The families claim that their detention was unlawful and that it subjected them to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. They also allege breaches of the children’s rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Jim Duffy of Public Interest Lawyers said today: “Our clients’ experiences and the broad expert consensus point to a practice that is inhumane, destructive and unnecessary. Child detention has to end now.” The claim will be heard over three days from 26th until 28th October.
For further information please contact Public Interest Lawyers on 07912 691 727.
Refugee and Migrant Justice, a charity that provides legal advice and support to asylum-seekers and other vulnerable migrants in the UK, today issued a report Safe at Last. Children on the front line of UK Border Control which found consistent evidence of the government’s failure to abide by its safeguarding duties under Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009.
RMJ investigated the treatment of over 30 young unaccompanied minors who have been detained at the Port of Dover as “illegal entrants” – all of whom were subject to lengthy and improper interviews, often without access to urgently needed medical treatment or the presence of a responsible adult. Information gleaned from these interviews when the interviewee is exhausted, highly stressed and often in physical pain is frequently used to undermine the credibility of the young person for the purposes of denying their asylum claim. Contrary to UKBA statements there is no evidence that such interviews are held in order to secure the welfare of the child but rather that such children are made to endure the harsh detention and immigration control procedures to which adult suspected illegal entrants are subject. A typical case cited by the RMJ report is that of Ali.
Ali was 14 when he arrived in the UK. He had a very painful bladder condition and the UK Border Agency interviewed him without offering him medical care:
When I arrived in the UK I was arrested and handcuffed. I think the police arrested me. I was feeling very ill and I was tired and hungry. I told the police officers that I was tired and needed to sleep but they said I could not. I was interviewed that night and I don’t know what time it was, maybe 11pm or midnight. I was asked how old I was and I told them I was 13. During the interview I said I felt ill. I had a pain in my genital area and I could not hold my bladder. I told the officers this, but they did not do anything. They just wrote something down and asked the next question. I found it difficult to concentrate as my mind was on this pain. I was also very hungry because I had not eaten anything. I didn’t feel myself. I was too scared to say anything, I was scared that I would be sent back or maybe locked up. I didn’t have anybody there to explain what the interview was about. I can’t even say how long the interview lasted.
About five minutes after the interview finished I was given the opportunity to eat some food but then they locked me up for the night. They did not explain why. It was very cold. I had a short-sleeved t-shirt on. The floor was like concrete and it was freezing. I wasn’t given a blanket or anything for my arms. I didn’t sleep at all. A doctor did not come to see me.
Refugee and Migrant Justice is currently seeking a judicial review of the lawfulness of the UKBA’s detention and illegal entrant interview practices in relation to unaccompanied minors. Because the legal process can be lengthy time consuming, RMJ has called on the the UK Border Agency to discontinue immediately its policy of interviewing children before safeguarding their welfare. It further recommends that
- UK authorities, including the police, refer children to the children’s services department of the relevant local authority as soon as a child becomes known to them, to ensure their welfare needs are met
- Children are offered appropriate medical treatment, rest and food immediately after being brought into contact with the UK authorities
- Interviews only take place after children have recovered from their journey, are well, and have had access to relevant services
- Children are given access to legal representation prior to and throughout any interview with the UK Border Agency.
- The practice of interviewing children alone, by an untrained interviewer and without an independent adult and legal representative being present is stopped.
- The UK Border Agency recruits a wider range of qualified interpreters to ensure children are safeguarded and correctly understood, as well as understanding the questions put to them. These interpreters should be trained to work with children and have Criminal Records Bureau clearance.
- The UK Border Agency urgently publishes its Asylum Policy Instructions on how to assess asylum claims of unaccompanied asylum seeking children. This guidance has been missing for a number of years and without clear guidance to staff on the assessment of asylum claims for children serious problems such as those documented in this report will continue.
Outsourcing abuse – UKBA’s handcuffing of detainees “disproportionate, unnecessary and inappropriate”
A Home Office commissioned report by Baroness Nuala O’Loan [now removed from the Home Office website with no archive link!] into a catalogue of serious abuses that detainees alleged they suffered at the hands of the UK Border Agency’s security contractors claimed not to have found evidence of ‘systematic abuse’, but did highlight alarming operational failures in relation to both the complaints process, the retention of paperwork by UKBA and the application of the use of force in immigration detention.
The leading human rights solicitors Birnberg Pierce & Partners, who have condemned the UKBA’s handcuffing of detainees as “disproportionate, unnecessary and inappropriate” compiled their report ‘Outsourcing Abuse: The use and misuse of state-sanctioned force during the detention and removal of asylum seekers’ in 2008 based on dozens of allegations of mistreatment at the hands of UKBA contracted security personnel.
One such case reported by The Guardian and The Independent involved a 32-year-old Cameroonian torture victim, who was subsequently handcuffed while being taken into the operating theatre for surgery, and again after coming round from the anaesthetic. On each occasion hospital staff asked for the handcuffs to be removed; on each occasion their requests were refused.
As a result of the concerns highlighted by the Birnberg Pierce Report, Baroness O’Loan made 22 recommendations for change-not one of which would have been made had these allegations not been brought to light. However, rather than welcoming the original report for bringing a number of serious operational failures into the open, the UKBA’s director Lin Homer in her foreword to the report castigated the authors of Outsourcing Abuse for damaging ‘the reputation of contractors’.
Contractors who already have a well documented reputation in a number of official reports from the Children’s Commission and HM Inspector of Prisons for forcing in the doors of sleeping families in the early hours of the morning, regularly and needlessly handcuffing parents in front of their own children, and using prison vehicles to transport their ‘clients’ to detention facilities or airports despite the fact that according to Harriet Wistrich of Birnberg Pierce many detainees ‘are survivors of horrific violence, torture and abuse who, as a result may be suicidal or suffer from mental illness’.
One of the most telling absences from the report is any consideration that children might be psychologically harmed by seeing their parents physically or verbally abused. For example, O’Loan says that
No complaints in relation to the treatment of children were identified in this Review, other than that in one case a mother stated that her three year old had wet herself because she had not been taken to the toilet.
However, many complaints highlighted in the original Outsourcing Report involved the verbal and physical abuse of parents in front of their children by UKBA employed security guards. Where these allegations were made, according to O’Loan, the investigation files were frequently found to be incomplete and confused and revealed a lack of thorough investigation.
But the same lack of thoroughness would appear to be a problem with the O’Loan report itself, since the report’s author relies almost entirely on documentary evidence from the Home Office and where it is missing makes no attempt to find out why or to interview independent witnesses or the complainants themselves. To simply comment in the case of AP, a woman from Zimbabwe who received an out of court settlement for civil damages against ‘Company 5’, who she claimed forcibly boarded her onto a waiting aircraft where
her arms were twisted and she was placed on the floor. Her baby was with her but left unattended. The escort officers abused her racially. There were six officers involved; two males and four females. The pilot refused to accept her on the plane.
that “this matter was not dealt with properly” is indicative of the ‘more in very mild regret than in anger’ tone of the entire report.
As hunger strikes in detention centres across the country proliferate and as new abuses of unaccompanied minors reach our office every day, the lack of engagement with the original report’s authors and the complainants featured in this follow-up ‘investigation’ highlights more than ever the need for a proper independent enquiry into the running of the UKBA’s immigration and detention operations.
Campaigners for the release of young Afghani orphan Mashal Jabari were delighted to hear that following a judicial review being lodged the judge agreed the following interim measures: until another full age assessment is completed, Mashal is to be considered 14 years of age and placed with a foster family in Wales where he has some support.
After being transported in a caged van with an adult detainee on the long journey from Cardiff to Oxfordshire, Mashall was placed in a dormitory with seven adult men. The UKBA planned to put Mashal on a flight to Afghanistan on Tuesday 9 March where his parents and sister had been killed for collaborating with the allied occupation forces. His older brother who has been given refugee status is currently taking his GCSE examinations in Leicester and is frantic with worry at the fate of his younger sibling.
Mashal was released from Campsfield House IRC at around 7.30 on Thursday evening and is now with his foster carers in Cardiff. A full update including details of further action and support that would help Mashal’s case to be resolved quickly and to assist him in beginning to recover from the trauma he has experienced in his own country and here in the UK will follow.
Thank you to everyone who sent letters, faxes and emails to the Home Secretary Rt. Hon. Alan Johnson MP, Evan Harris MP and their local MPs.
The response has been overwhelming, heartening and invaluable.
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.”