Category: Pease Pottage
Today OurKingdom publishes Clare Sambrook’s damning indictment of the UK Border Agency’s systematic failure to protect some of the most vulnerable children in Britain – children whose parents have survived imprisonment, torture and rape in the countries they have fled only to find themselves under lock and key for failing to persuade the Home Office that their claim for asylum is genuine.
Children who became victims of abuse while in detention and whose voices can no longer be heard because the UK Border Agency has forcibly removed the victims from the jurisdiction of the UK justice system.
It is a harrowing story, but also an alarming account of institutional collusion, cover up and lying which reveals the complete lack of accountability of Britain’s highly profitable outsourced security state and the politicians and civil servants who are still bent on serving and protecting it.
The appalling Rochdale sexual abuse scandal prompted long-overdue scrutiny of our children’s homes. Another national disgrace ripe for exposure is the UK Border Agency’s serial and repugnant oppression and abuse of vulnerable children over more than a decade. Today OurKingdom publishes Clare Sambrook’s exposé of the Border Agency’s abuse of children and its relentless misrepresentation of evidence of harm. We call upon Parliament to hold ministers, the Home Office and its ugly agency to account. (The material that follows is distressing.)
Lunchtime at Yarl’s Wood
Sunday, 20 September 2009, the UK Border Agency’s Yarl’s Wood detention centre run by commercial contractors Serco.
A woman enters a room and finds a five-year-old child inserting his finger into another five-year-old’s anus, moving it backwards and forwards.
The little boy whose anus has been penetrated tells his mother that one of the other boy’s much older brothers has done this to him several times before. He complains of pain in his bottom, has become emotionally distant, will not let his mother touch him.
A GP employed by Serco does not examine the boy internally, concludes that his bottom is sore because he has scratched it, says psychological effects are a matter of “wait and see”. Bedfordshire children’s services decide not to take the matter further.
There is no investigation of the young people who might have sexually abused the little boys, or of whether they might pose a continuing threat to other children within the detention centre.
The mother’s pleas for a specialist’s opinion, for therapeutic help for her son, for an independent investigation, are all refused.
The Border Agency’s so-called “Children’s Champion”, whose job is to protect and promote children’s welfare and safety, fails to intervene. The Children’s Society, a Church of England charity that provides welfare services to Yarl’s Wood families, also fails to act. Mother and son are rapidly transferred out of Yarl’s Wood and removed from Britain.
A special culture
Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of this story, which is fully documented as we shall see, is that it holds so few surprises for people familiar with the Border Agency’s special culture.
Paediatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists and child welfare experts who have exposed inconvenient truths have seen their work and reputation traduced by Border Agency officials. Their advice has been ignored, summarily dismissed, even derided. Viable alternatives to detention offered by reputable experts have been ignored. Parliament has been repeatedly misled.
Doctors, nurses and charities who step inside the culture may forget their critical faculties, their moral compass and professional ethics.
This dossier highlights just some of the Border Agency’s attempts to misrepresent evidence that children, including the sexually abused little boy, have been harmed in its care. It follows the pattern of misrepresentation and denial all the way to the current “compassionate approach” to child detention — a practice that continues despite the Coalition promise to end it.
An exciting growth market
For the Agency’s commercial partners, security companies G4S, Serco and the rest, immigration detention is one growth market within an “exciting” outsourcing boom, grounded in cosy relations with ministers and civil servants.
The Labour government’s aggressive acceleration of the detention policy in 2001 gave the security industry new opportunities to extract profit from every step of the process: arrest, transport, detention, removal — even healthcare and social work within the rapidly expanding “detention estate”.
The Border Agency and its commercial contractors set about the raiding and detention of families with remarkable enthusiasm and disregard for children’s welfare, detaining up to 2000 children a year in prison-like conditions, sometimes for weeks and months on end, against all professional advice.
The Home Office and its Agency brushed aside repeated warnings fromsuccessive European Union Human Rights Commissioners and repeated recommendations from the HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP), urging over years that the detention of children should happen only in exceptional circumstances, and decisions must be based on “independent and immediate welfare and needs assessments of each child.”
For the border control mind, and commercial contractors’ culture rooted in the cash transit business (G4S), and transport and maintenance (Serco), “children’s welfare” has proved an inscrutable concept.
An HMIP team visiting Yarl’s Wood in the Spring of 2005 found three children who had been detained immediately before their GCSE exams and one autistic five year old so distressed she had not eaten for five days.
England’s first Children’s Commissioner, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, called repeatedly for detention to cease, saying that nothing in his 30-year career as a children’s doctor prepared him for his first visit to Yarl’s Wood.
His first report, “An announced visit to Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre 31st October 2005” records that none of the children he encountered had any idea why they were locked up. Many had been in Britain for years or were born here. One boy in school uniform had been snatched with his mother as he was about to catch his school bus, with no opportunity to say goodbye to his classmates. The children were subjected to body searches, sometimes several times a day. Three had been locked up for more than 57 days.
Handcuffs in hospital
The security industry’s priorities, culture and clout shine in a chilling “Memorandum of Understanding” struck in 2005 between Yarl’s Wood’s managers, GSL, and Bedford Hospital which empowered GSL to handcuff children who needed hospital care. The document (in my possession), which defines a child as “a human being up to the age of 18”, permits GSL escorts to overrule medical objections to the handcuffing of child patients. If doctors or nurses persist in objecting, GSL escorts may insist the cuffs stayed on, pending a decision from a higher authority, namely the GSL Duty Shift Manager who would rule on whether the cuffs stayed on or not, or whether to delay medical treatment “until alternative security measures can be put in place”.
“For staff in general the centre is like a human clearing house,” Yarl’s Wood chaplain Larry Wright told a team from HM Inspectorate of Prisons who visited the detention centre in February 2006. Their report, “Inquiry into the quality of health care at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre”, published in October 2006, found multiple healthcare inadequacies, compounded by the Border Agency’s “unresponsiveness . . . to clinical concerns about an alleged history of torture or adverse medical consequences of continued detention.”
When clinical concerns were raised, the Inspectors found, “the information was not systematically addressed or actioned. Nor was independent medical opinion sought or adhered to.”
HM Prisons Inspectorate urged the government quickly to transfer responsibility for detention centre healthcare from the Home Office to the National Health Service. A very important recommendation, since the Home Office’s behaviour towards people in its care was plainly distorted by its over-riding concern to police national borders.
Serco took over the running of Yarl’s Wood (including healthcare) from GSL in April 2007 with an eight-year contract valued at “around £85 million”.
That same year, under pressure, the government instructed the Border Agency to require all staff dealing with children to undergo mandatory training in child safeguarding. Instead of commissioning an independent, accredited provider, the Agency’s “Children’s Champion” turned to unaccredited G4S. Since then, without any independent scrutiny or evaluation, G4S has trained 7,800 UKBA personnel in “keeping children safe”.**
“Wholly inaccurate” records of child detainees
Children were anything but safe. In February 2008 HM Inspectorate of Prisonslearned that some children detained time and again had been locked up for a cumulative 275 days. “Wholly inaccurate” official figures had calculated their cumulative totals at 14 and 17 days.
Visiting Yarl’s Wood again, in May 2008, Children’s Commissioner Sir Al Aynsley-Green found that “Children’s physical and mental health rarely appears to inform the decision to maintain detention,” and medical assessments were poor.
In his report on the visit, published in April 2009, Aynsley-Green notes that one mother locked up at Yarl’s Wood was a victim of torture with “a severe depressive illness” and “auditory hallucinations”, yet her two-year-old son was assessed by detention centre medical staff as just a “happy boy”. The mother “was prescribed anti-depressants and put on suicide watch in the light of three suicide attempts. Yet no mental health support was provided, nor was an assessment of her parenting abilities conducted.” Aynsley-Green repeated his call for child detention to end.
Roll calls, body searches, sex games
The first peer-reviewed clinical study of children locked up at Yarl’s Wood,“The mental and physical health difficulties of children held within a British immigration detention center,” appeared in the medical journal “Child Abuse & Neglect” in October 2009.
The authors, Lorek et al, a team of NHS paediatricians and a clinical psychologist, recorded children’s “increased fear due to being suddenly placed in a facility resembling a prison”, their weight loss, headaches and tummy pains, their clinical depression and anxiety, the trouble they had sleeping, how older children were so stressed they wet their beds and soiled their pants.
The Lorek team described the body searches, the photographing and the fingerprinting of the children, the roll calls, the ID cards they had to carry at all times, the ten locked doors between freedom and the family centre, the steep deterioration in parents’ mental health and parenting abilities, the self-harm and the suicide attempts.
And the sex games. One father, “spontaneously complained that he had found his daughter in the centre without any clothes on. His child explained that she had been encouraged to undress and play ‘sex games’ instigated by another detained child.”
Another mother, “spontaneously commented on the sexualized behavior of children within the center”.
The doctors wrote: “The high levels of mental and physical health difficulties detected support the view that detention, even for short periods of time, is detrimental and not appropriate for children.”
(One of the authors speaks about their findings on the BBC here.)
The study was sent to members of the parliamentary Home Affairs Committee ahead of their visit to Yarl’s Wood on 15 October 2009 in the course of their inquiry into the detention of children in the immigration system. (The committee’s duties include scrutinising the Border Agency’s work). Committee chairman Keith Vaz MP later reported to the House: “Our visit was somewhat marred by the Home Office officials’ terrible anxiety about the Select Committee visit.”
What the Border Agency did next is quite shocking.
An ex-policeman assesses the medical evidence
The Agency’s director responsible for children and their welfare, the curiously entitled “Director of Criminality and Detention”, Dave Wood, decided to offer his own assessment of the clinical evidence.
Dave Wood is not a paediatrician or a child psychologist. He is a former Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner who led the Met’s Anti-Corruption Squad as Detective Chief Superintendent. (He gave evidence to theIndependent Police Complaints Commission’s 2006 inquiry allegations of police corruption in the Stephen Lawrence murder investigation.)
In September 2009, in oral evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, Wood had said that although absconding wasn’t an issue — “it’s not terribly easy for a family unit to abscond” — families should be locked up anyway, because the lack of detention, “would act as a significant magnet and pull to families from abroad”.
In a memo to the Home Affairs Committee, dated November 2009, Wood set out to be “helpful” and “provide some further details in response to concern you may have about the contents of the [Lorek] report.”
The study, he claimed, “was undertaken without any reference to the UK Border Agency or its clinicians. At no point were healthcare or centre staff, who would have known the children, asked for their views or comments. A number of criticisms are therefore made without any corroborated evidence, or with any opportunity for the centre to comment.”
(Here is Wood on local BBC TV again asserting that the doctors failed to discuss their research).
This was demonstrably false. Lorek’s peer-reviewed study clearly demonstrates their contact with Yarl’s Wood clinicians; indeed the Lorek team’s psychologist had recommended that five parents should be “assessed by a psychiatrist as a matter of urgency due to the severity of their mental health difficulties and the level of risk”.
Meetings the Agency claimed did not happen
What’s more, Home Office documents (in my possession) record that two of the authors presented their research to Border Agency officials in a roundtable discussion held at the office of the Children’s Commissioner for England on 19 June 2007, during which Jeremy Oppenheim, the Border Agency’s then “Children’s Champion” invited the doctors to make a further presentation inside Yarl’s Wood.
And they did, at a formal meeting on 27 September 2007 entitled “Meeting to Discuss Health Impacts of Detention on Children”.
The 26 invitees listed on another Home Office document (in my possession) include Serco healthcare staff, Bedfordshire County Council Social Workers, a representative of security company G4S, the Border Agency’s Chief Immigration Officer Fiona Jack, its “Children’s Champion”, its Deputy Director of Enforcement Policy Stephanie Hutchinson-Hudson, its Head of Detention Brian Pollett and its Assistant Director, Detention Special Policy Unit, Simon Barrett.
According to the Home Office Agenda, at 10.10 am, after an introduction from the “Children’s Champion”, two of the authors, Dr Lorek and Dr Nesbitt, gave a presentation entitled, “Physical and Mental Health Difficulties of children within a UK Immigration Detention Centre”.
The Home Affairs Committee’s report, The Detention of Children in the Immigration System was published on 29 November 2009. It completely ignored the Lorek study.
It is hard to understand this significant omission. Perhaps MPs on the committee simply accepted Wood’s assertion that the study “was undertaken without any reference to the UK Border Agency or its clinicians.” It seems that they did not challenge him. But even if what he alleged were true, the weight of Lorek et al’s professional assessment surely ought to have commanded the respect of the committee and formed part of their report.
Still, the evidence of harm to children did not stay buried long.
Royal Colleges exhume evidence of harm
On 10 December 2009 The Royal College of General Practitioners, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Royal College of Psychiatrists and the UK Faculty of Public Health issued a joint statement drawing upon Lorek et al’s evidence and urging the government to stop detaining children “without delay”.
Until detention stops, said the Colleges, detained children and young people should be referred immediately to Local Authority children’s social care as “children at risk of significant harm”. No child or young person with mental health problems or at risk of developing them should be detained. The Colleges, echoing urgent advice from HM Inspectorate of Prisons a full three years before, urged the government to put detention centre healthcare into the hands of the National Health Service and not the Home Office.
The Colleges’ widely publicised statement was backed by the Royal College of Nursing, the Association of Child Psychotherapists, British Association of Social Workers, the British Psychological Society and the UK Council for Psychotherapy.
But it cut no ice at the Border Agency, whose Director of Criminality and Detention Dave Wood assured The Guardian: “Treating children with care and compassion is a priority. Families at Yarl’s Wood should get the same level of care available on the NHS, and they do.”
On 14 December 2009, the Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael asked the Labour government when it would stop detaining children. He said: “The report published last week by the coalition of the royal medical colleges made it clear that children who are detained in immigration removal centres suffer from mental health problems and consider self-harm and occasionally even suicide.”
Minister Meg Hillier, briefed by officials a few days previously, parrotted the Border Agency’s false claim about Lorek et al’s research:
“Let me point out that the report in question . . . did not take into account the views of the clinicians who worked with those children and who know them.”
And so, again, medical evidence of children’s suffering was misrepresented and dismissed, and again Parliament was misled.
Security industry nurses see “jolly happy children”
Amid continuing grave concern about medical ethics and competence inside the “detention estate”, the Royal Colleges had reminded practitioners working for the Border Agency and its commercial contractors of the basic competencies of their craft — history-taking, examination, investigation, treatment, referral and record-keeping, and of their legal duty to declare children unfit to be detained where detention appears detrimental to their mental health or wellbeing.
Nurses employed by Serco at Yarl’s Wood routinely described child detainees in medical notes as “jolly” and “happy”, according to the third and final report on Yarl’s Wood from Sir Al Aynsley-Green in February 2010 (“The Children’s Commissioner for England’s follow up report to: the arrest and detention of children subject to immigration control”).
The father of a 12-year-old girl told the Children’s Commissioner’s team that she had been arrested, beaten, sexually abused and humiliated by Nigerian soldiers. On admission to Yarl’s Wood she was mute, refusing food for seven days. About one Yarl’s Wood child whose mother had been raped in Africa and was hepatitis B positive, Serco nurses wrote under family history, “nil of note”.
The Children’s Commissioner, an eminent paediatrician, reported that the Border Agency continued to send children unvaccinated to areas where TB is prevalent and measles and malaria endemic. More than a year after he had suggested it, the provision of bed nets was “still under consideration”. Aynsley-Green repeated his call for child detention to cease.
A covert attack on the Children’s Commissioner
The Border Agency had read the Children’s Commissioner’s report in advance of publication. Yet again, its response to expert medical advice was to go on the attack.
The Home Office press office circulated an unattributable and defamatory advance note to journalists, undermining the integrity of Aynsley-Green and his work. That extraordinary note, which invented inaccuracies in the report and then knocked them down, can be found here on page 13 of my own Parliamentary submission on official lying.
The black-ops briefing got results: Aynsley-Green’s February 2010 report was arguably under-reported in the media. And the Border Agency carried on misleading.
Agency officials and their commercial partners Serco gave a positive, upbeat presentation about children’s experience of detention to Bedford Borough Council’s Children’s Services Committee on 23 February 2010, assuring committee members that the Children’s Commissioner’s report contained “issues” that were “unsupported or factually incorrect”.
But inconvenient evidence of distress and physical damage kept on piling up. In March 2010 the government published Baroness Nuala O’Loan’s independent inquiry into evidence of widespread abuse of asylum detainees, including children, at the hands of Border Agency escort contractors, including G4S. The abuses had been documented in the 2008 Medical Justice reportOutsourcing Abuse. O’Loan’s inquiry found that there was “inadequate management of the use of force by the private sector companies”; she made 22 recommendations for change.
Readers might by now be able to guess what the Border Agency did next.
In a foreword to O’Loan’s report, Border Agency chief executive Lin Homer attacked the doctors and lawyers who had brought the abuses to light, accusing them of “seeking to damage the reputation of our contractors”.
Leaving aside the defamatory nature of Homer’s allegation against the doctors and lawyers, it is the case that “reputational risk” is a commercial matter and the proper concern of the companies themselves, their executives, directors and shareholders — not for the Home Office.
Only months after the Border Agency had dismissed the evidence of abuse by escort contractors, a previously healthy man called Jimmy Mubenga diedduring a form of “restraint” by private escorters G4S exposed as dangerous inOutsourcing Abuse.
The sexually abused little boy is not totally forgotten
The little boy sexually assaulted over and over again during his weeks locked up at Yarl’s Wood in the autumn of 2009 might have been forgotten by the Border Agency, its contractors and the resident children’s charity. But somebody else had found out about him.
The Children’s Commissioner’s team, in their review of the detention centre medical notes, had spotted the little boy’s horrible ordeal, had noted the lack of proper investigation, that safeguarding procedures had not been followed, had noted the mother’s desperate requests for independent investigation and medical examination, and that they had all been refused.
Sir Al Aynsley-Green sent a detailed and confidential report on the case to Bedford Borough Council, the UK Border Agency, Serco and Bedfordshire Local Safeguarding Children Board, whose Serious Case Review Panel commissioned an independent investigation in October 2009. The panel decided that “a legally qualified person, independent of all the participating agencies” should conduct the Review, and appointed a barrister and mental health review tribunal judge in December 2009, causing real anxiety to Border Agency executives and their commercial partners, Serco. The profitable business of locking up families at Yarl’s Wood, which served as a useful deterrent in border control, was in jeopardy.
Only weeks ahead of the 2010 General Election, and before the independent investigation had made its findings public, the Home Office handed Serco a £32 million contract, without competition, to carry on running Yarl’s Wood for three more years.
The Coalition Agreement of 12 May 2010 promised to end the detention of children, but instead of immediately ending it, immigration minister Damian Green said on 15 May that he was “launching a comprehensive review of alternatives to child detention, including opening a dialogue with relevant stakeholders, organisations and experts.”
To lead this Review, a legally qualified person, independent of all the participating agencies was not appointed. Damian Green turned instead to the Border Agency’s own Director of Criminality and Detention Dave Wood, who would co-chair a “working group” of invited civil society and voluntary sector groups. The other co-chair was the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund to whom besieged Border Agency executives had turned for help in the anxious months ahead of the General Election. The Fund’s representative, Patrick Wintour (founder of the Employability Forum), had engaged in private pre-election talks over months with officials — including chief executive Lin Homer, deputy chief executive Jonathan Sedgwick, the latest “Children’s Champion” Kristian Armstrong, and Dave Wood.
The Review started work formally on 1 June 2010. (Its terms of reference arehere.) Immigration minister Damian Green told Parliament on 17 June: “We are carrying out the review as fast as humanly possible, so that the detention of children for immigration purposes can end and a practical alternative be put in its place.”
That might have been Damian Green’s intention, but it was no part of the Border Agency’s plan.
A shameful account of institutional incompetence
On 14 June 2010 the Bedfordshire Local Safeguarding Children Board released an executive summary of the independent investigative report into the case of child sexual abuse that had been so disgracefully mishandled. The investigators found that the Border Agency, the Agency’s “Children’s Champion”, its independent social workers, Serco’s medical staff and social workers, Bedford Borough Council’s children’s services and the local police had all failed in their duties to safeguard children in the Border Agency’s care.
What’s more, Border Agency officials had — yet again —misrepresented evidence that children were being harmed and being put at risk of harm. The Bedfordshire independent inquiry found that executives misled ministers about the safeguarding shambles that failed the little boy, and that ministers, relying on the Agency’s misinformation, decided to carry on detaining children:
“UKBA provided information, on the basis of which a ministerial decision was made affecting the continued detention of children. Although that factual information included reference to the incident leading to this review, there was no evaluation of the impact that this incident had on the propriety of detention.”
Malcolm Stevens, a former lead Children’s Services Inspector with the government’s Social Services Inspectorate, described the findings as “a shameful account of institutional incompetence”.
Commenting in The Daily Telegraph on 18 June 2010, Stevens urged the government to “reconsider the wisdom of its decision to repeat the error of the previous government in allowing the organisation most culpable – the UK Border Agency – to lead its current review of services for children in detention.”
He went on: “From the recommendations of this review, if there is one thing on earth that Border Agency should not do, it is that.”
But the government did not reconsider, and the Border Agency carried on leading the Review, with thoroughly predictable consequences:
“All summer, the UKBA made it plain that they were not willing to give up the power to detain children, as part of the policy of ending the detention of children,” said one participant, Syd Bolton, co-director of the Refugee Children’s Rights Project, Children’s Legal Centre.
“In the many discussions about how to end detention held with the UKBA over that review period, it was clear that the UKBA simply would not entertain the possibility of a major plank of its border control powers being removed.” (Bolton was speaking on 26 March 2011 at the launch of End Child Detention Now’s “Keep Your Promise” campaign.)
Rebranding child detention
What emerged from the Review was not an alternative to detention, but detention rebranded.
A new detention facility called “Cedars” opened on 17 August 2011, with a new vocabulary (“family friendly” “pre-departure accommodation”), run by a familiar security company, G4S, and with the same fundamental safeguarding flaw highlighted in the Bedfordshire Safeguarding Children Board independent report on Yarl’s Wood, namely, “a gap in regulatory arrangements . . . no single agency has an adequate overarching responsibility for regulation of services to children in immigration detention”.
G4S ‘won’ the £15 million contract to run Cedars against no competition. (The name is a government acronym for Compassion, Empathy, Dignity, Respect and Support).
Contract-hungry children’s charity Barnardo’s provides welfare services and delivers, by its presence, a reassuring endorsement. When, last year, an independent doctor asked Barnardo’s to take action about the continuing practice of sending families to danger zones without essential immunisation and malarial protection, Barnardo’s chief executive Anne Marie Carrie replied: “G4S, the UKBA contractor for the site is contracturally responsible for ensuring appropriate health services to residents at Cedars,” and she had raised his concerns with the management team.
The doctor wrote to the G4S site manager and got a reply from the Border Agency in an envelope stamped with the G4S logo; it said malarial protection was a matter for the families and those who “have not arranged any malaria prevention will be provided with an information leaflet”.
A so-called “Independent Family Returns Panel” guards children’s welfare.One of its members is Dr John W. Keen, who has advised the Border Agency for years, and whose assessment of a vulnerable patient was deemed “irrational” and “tainted” by the then Mr Justice Leveson in a 2006 High Court Judgement.
The Border Agency’s office of “Children’s Champion” carries on regardless of its catastrophic failure to intervene on behalf of the sexually abused little boy at Yarl’s Wood, and Border Agency staff continue to be trained in child-safeguarding by G4S.
The Department of Health assumed policy responsibility for detention centre healthcare in April 2012; the transfer of budgetary responsibility is due, “subject to legislation”, by April 2014. (Hansard)
In the first quarter of this year 53 children were reported detained, far fewer than under Labour’s 2000-per-year peak, but higher than might have been inferred from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s December 2010 forecast of“tiny numbers of cases” detained as “an absolutely last resort”.
In March 2012 Dave Wood was promoted to the post of chief operating officer of the UK Border Agency. In April, the Home Office quietly appointed aschairman of the UKBA board a career investment banker, Philip Augar (ex NatWest and Shroeders).
The narrow thread of recent history exposed here resonates beyond the hard lives of asylum-seeker families.
Security companies G4S and Serco have moved far, far beyond their security-industry base, deep into our public sector, securing massive government contracts in policing, health, education, welfare.
Senior civil servant and ministerial loyalty to “our contractors”, as revealed in this case, is a recurring phenomenon that merits further inquiry and real vigilance as Britain undergoes what the Financial Times has called “the biggest wave of outsourcing since the 1980s”.
The pattern of Border Agency behaviour unfolded here suggests a rogue organisation, shielded by the Home Office, beyond accountability to Parliament and the public. Nobody has been held to account for the misleading of ministers, Parliament and the public over years, as a direct result of which thousands of innocent and vulnerable children have been locked up to the detriment of their health and wellbeing. Relations between the Border Agency and its contractors are intimate, enduring and enmeshed. Children remain at risk of harm.
The Home Affairs Select Committee should wake up to its duties, which include scrutinising the Border Agency’s work, call its executives to account for their repeated denial of evidence of children’s suffering, and urge the government to bring about a real and honourable end to child detention.
This document is also available in PDF format.
With huge thanks to Martin Rowson for his specially designed cartoon.
* GSL and G4S
GSL was part of Group 4 Falck, the huge Danish security company that merged with Securicor in July 2004 to create Group 4 Securicor, rebranded in 2006 as G4S.
In June 2004, just ahead of the merger, Group 4 Falck sold GSL to its management in a £207 million deal backed by private equity firms. Then, in December 2007, G4S bought it back again (for £355 million).
G4S chief executive Nick Buckles told the Financial Times in December 2007 that GSL had been sold “to ease the progress of the merger as there would otherwise have been competition issues over prisoner transportation.” GSL, he said, would now “slot neatly into the next stage of G4S’s strategy to focus on long-term government contracts.”
** The UK Border Agency and “Keeping children safe”
Thanks to pressure from the first Children’s Commissioner for England and HM Inspectorate of Prisons, among others repeatedly highlighting multiple deficiencies in the Border Agency’s treatment of vulnerable children over years, mandatory training in child safeguarding for all Border Agency staff in contact with children has been required since 2007.
That was enshrined in the statutory guidance to section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, which gave the Border Agency a duty to promote and safeguard the welfare of children.
The equivalent statutory duty on other public bodies to safeguard children was provided by Section 11 of The Children Act 2004 following the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié, but the UK Border Agency and its predecessors resisted these duties until they were imposed on them under section 55.
Children subject to immigration control, including those held in immigration detention in the UK, were excluded from the full rights and protections of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child until November 2008 when, under great pressure, the UK withdrew most of its reservations to the Convention.
Unpublished documents in the author’s possession:
Carrie, Anne Marie. Chief executive, Barnardo’s. Letter to Dr Frank Arnold (27 September 2011).
Foley, Gillian. Detention Services. UK Border Agency. Letter to Dr Frank Arnold. (8 November 2011).
GSL, Yarl’s Wood, and Bedford Hospital. MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING FOR CHILDREN NEEDING SERVICES AT BEDFORD HOSPITAL NHS TRUST AND YARL’S WOOD REMOVAL CENTRE JANUARY 2005. Review date: JANUARY 2006. Ray Reveley, Centre Manager, Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre; Andrew Reed, Chief Executive, Bedford Hospital NHS Trust
Home Office Border & Immigration Agency. INVITEES: MEETING TO DISCUSS THE HEALTH IMPACTS OF DETENTION ON CHILDREN WILL BE HELD AT YARLSWOOD DETENTION CENTRE ON THURSDAY 27 SEPTEMBER 2007 AT 10.00AM
Home Office Border & Immigration Agency. Letter from Joe Heatley, Professional Adviser to Border & Immigration Agency, Children’s Champion, Social Policy Directorate, 17 August 2007 RE: HEALTH IMPACTS ON CHILDREN OF FAMILY DETENTION IN YARL’S WOOD IMMIGRATION REMOVAL CENTRE
Home Office Border & Immigration Agency. AGENDA HEALTH IMPACTS OF DETENTION ON CHILDREN. THURSDAY 27TH SEPTEMBER 2007
Home Office. Press Office. Response to criticism – these are not to be attributed as direct statements. Nick Logan. (February 2010)
Public domain documents:
Aynsley-Green, Al. An announced visit to Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre 31st October 2005. London: The Office of Children’s Commissioner. (December 2005)
Aynsley-Green, Al. The Arrest And Detention of Children Subject to Immigration Control: A report following the Children’s Commissioner for England’s visit to Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre 16 May 2008 (April 2009)
Aynsley-Green, Al. The Children’s Commissioner for England’s follow up report to: The Arrest And Detention of Children Subject to Immigration Control. Visit to Yarl’s Wood October 2009 (February 2010)
Aynsley-Green, Al. Speedy end to child detention is needed. The promised review must not be an excuse for civil service prevarication – the welfare of children has to come first. guardian.co.uk (23 May 2010)
Bedford Borough Council: Minutes for Children’s Services Policy Review and Development Committee meeting, Feb 23 2010, 6.30PM. (23 February 2010)
Bedfordshire Local Safeguarding Children Board. Independent Review.Executive Summary. Child A and Child B Placed with Family at Immigration Removal Centre (June 2010)http://www.bedfordshirelscb.org.uk/pro_files/executivesummaryforchildaandchildbindependentreviewfinalversion090610unprotected(2).pdf
Bercow et al. Alternatives to immigration detention of families and children. A discussion paper by John Bercow MP, Lord Dubs and Evan Harris MP for the All Party Parliamentary Groups on Children and Refugees (July 2006)
Bolton, Syd. Co-director of the Refugee Children’s Rights Project, Children’s Legal Centre. Launch of End Child Detention Now’s “Keep Your Promise” campaign. Oxford House, Bethnal Green, London, (26 March 2011)
Green, Damian. Immigration minister. Letter to Keith Vaz, MP, chairman, Home Affairs Select Committee, on UK Border Agency and Border Force governance and the appointment of investment banker Philip Augar as chairman of the UKBA board. (6 June 2012)
Burstow, Paul. Written Answer to Question from Simon Kirby MP on transfer of detention estate healthcare to the NHS. (31 January 2012)
Carmichael, Alistair. Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael. “The report published last week by the coalition of the royal medical colleges made it clear that children who are detained in immigration removal centres suffer from mental health problems and consider self-harm and occasionally even suicide.” House of Commons. Oral Answers to Questions. Home Department. (14 December 2009)
Clegg, Nick. Speech. Nick Clegg confirms end to child detention (16 Dec 2010) Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg this morning announced that child detention for immigration purposes is to end.http://www.libdems.org.uk/speeches_detail.aspx?title=Nick_Clegg_confirms_end_to_child_detention_%28full_speech%29&pPK=d73b587e-f837-4b16-b7d5-a14b1bfa8a9b
Coalition Agreement reached by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats (12 May 2010)
Crawley, Heaven. Ending the Detention of Children: Developing an Alternative Approach to Family Returns. Centre for Migration Policy Research (CMPR), Swansea University. (June 2010)
Green, Damian. Immigration minister. Interview. BBC Radio Scotland. 14 June 2012.
Green, Damian. Immigration minister. “We are carrying out the review as fast as humanly possible, so that the detention of children for immigration purposes can end and a practical alternative be put in its place.” Westminster Hall. Alternatives to Child Detention (17 June 2010)
Gil-Robles, E. Report by Elvaro Gil-Robles, Commissioner for Human Rights on his visit to the United Kingdom 4th–12th November 2004, CommDH (2005). Strasbourg: Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights.
Griggs, Tom. G4S recaptures prison operator in £355m deal. Financial Times (19 December 2007)
Hammarberg, Thomas (2008). Memorandum by Thomas Hammarberg, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe Following his visits to the United Kingdom on 5-8 February and 31 March-2 April 2008, CommDH. Strasbourg: Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights. (18 September 2008)
HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP). Report on an announced inspection of Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre 28 February – 4 March 2005 by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP). Inquiry into the quality of healthcare at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre (20-24 February 2006) by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons.
HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP). Report on an announced inspection of Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre (4-8 February 2008) by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
More HMIP reports on Yarl’s Wood here.
Hillier, Meg. Labour Home Office minister. The Lorek report “did not take into account the views of the clinicians who worked with those children and who know them.” House of Commons. Oral Answers to Questions. Home Department. (14 December 2009)
Home Office UK Border Agency. Review into the Ending of the Detention of Children for Immigration Purposes. Terms of Reference. (1 June 2010)
Homer Lin, UKBA chief executive. Response to Medical Justice. “State Sponsored Cruelty”. Children in immigration detention. September 2010, said UKBA took the needs of “vulnerable individuals seeking asylum in the UK, and in particular the need to safeguard and protect the wellbeing of children”, very seriously.
Homer Lin, UKBA chief executive. “seeking to damage the reputation of our contractors”. Foreword to O’Loan (March 2010) p1.
House of Commons Home Affairs Committee. The Detention of Children in the Immigration System. First Report of Session 2009–10 House of Commons (24 November 2009)
Independent Police Complaints Commission. Independent investigation into complaints following “The Boys Who Killed Stephen Lawrence” BBC Panorama 26 July 2006. (2006)
Lorek et al. The mental and physical health difficulties of children held within a British immigration detention centre: A pilot study. Child Abuse and Neglect: 33: 573-585. (2009)
Medical Justice. Outsourcing abuse. The use and misuse of state-sanctioned force during the detention and removal of asylum seekers. A report by Birnberg Peirce & Partners, Medical Justice and the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (July 2008)
Medical Justice. “State Sponsored Cruelty”. Children in immigration detention. Jon Burnett, Judith Carter, Jon Evershed, Maya Bell Kohli, Claire Powell, and Gervase de Wilde. 141 cases are featured in this report involving children detained between 2004 and April 2010. These children spent a mean average of 26 days each in immigration detention. One child had spent 166 days in detention, over numerous separate periods, before her third birthday. 48% of the children in this report were born in the UK. 74 children were psychologically harmed. Symptoms included bed-wetting and loss of bowel control, heightened anxiety, and food refusal. 34 children exhibited signs of developmental regression. Six children expressed suicidal ideation either whilst in detention or after release. Three girls attempted to end their own lives. (September 2010)
O’Loan, Nuala. REPORT TO THE UNITED KINGDOM BORDER AGENCY ON “OUTSOURCING ABUSE” by BARONESS NUALA O’LOAN DBE (March 2010)
Plimmer, Gill. Outsourcing set to boom as contracts surge, Financial Times. (17 June 2012)
The Royal Colleges of Paediatrics and Child Health, General Practitioners and Psychiatrists and the UK Faculty of Public Health. Intercollegiate Briefing Paper: Significant Harm – the effects of immigration detention on the health of children and families in the UK. (10 December 2009)
Sambrook, Clare. How Official Lying Threatens Our Democracy and What Should Be Done About It, Submission to the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications The Future of Investigative Journalism, 21 November 2011.
Committee’s report: The future of investigative journalism (16 February 2012)
Sambrook’s report also published on
OurKingdom@openDemocracy (21 November 2011)
Sambrook, Clare. Controversial doctor and Barnardo’s serve UK’s flawed child detention policy. OurKingdom@openDemocracy (15 June, 2012)
Sambrook, Clare. G4S teaches UK Border Agency how to care for children. OurKingdom@openDemocracy (10 July, 2012)
Serco. Contract News Update. Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre contract extension (11 May 2010)
Stevens, Malcolm. Former lead Children’s Services Inspector with the Government’s Social Services Inspectorate. “a shameful account of institutional incompetence”. Yarl’s Wood immigration centre treated children in a shameful way. It’s clearer than ever that this centre must be closed, says Malcolm Stevens. The Daily Telegraph. (18 June 2010)
Vaz, Keith, “Our visit was somewhat marred by the Home Office officials’ terrible anxiety about the Select Committee visit.” Westminster Hall (17 June 2010)
Wood, Dave, Director of Criminality and Detention. UKBA. “Treating children with care and compassion is a priority. Families at Yarl’s Wood should get the same level of care available on the NHS, and they do.” Move children out of migrant centres say medical experts. Owen Boycott. The Guardian. (10 December 2009)
Wood, Dave, Director of Criminality and Detention. UKBA. “it’s not terribly easy for a family unit to abscond”. Examination of witnesses. Home Affairs Committee, 16 September 2009.
Wood, Dave, Director of Criminality and Detention. UKBA. “the study was undertaken without any reference to the UK Border Agency or its clinicians”. Supplementary memorandum submitted by UK Border Agency. Home Affairs Committee, November 2009.
See also OurKingdom’s collections:
The scandal of child detention in the UK
G4S: securing whose world?
G4S who manage the Pease Pottage ‘pre-departure accommodation centre’ where families are forcibly held for up to a week prior to enforced removal by the UK Border Agency have refused to allow Santa to deliver Christmas gifts to the children held behind the 2.5m security fence.
The Eastbourne branch of the Lush cosmetic chain had collected luxury soaps, chocolate and toys to be taken as presents to families, but despite repeated requests, volunteers from SOAS Detainee Support Group had been barred by the centre’s managers who cited ‘health and safety and security’ reasons.
G4S staff also refused to come to the gates to accept the gifts on behalf of the families – repeating the Scrooge like stance adopted by the UK Border Agency when it refused entry to St Nicholas at the Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre two years ago.
Lush local campaigns co-ordinator Liz Snook told the West Sussex County Times: “All we’re trying to do here is give some children some presents”.
“We’re prepared to go through whatever is demanded of us, but instead we’ve been met with rudeness and flat refusal.”
“We want the families held under this frightening system to know that we’ve not forgotten them.”
The coalition government continues to claim that it has ended child detention in the United Kingdom.
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.
The companies managing UK immigration have come in for criticism once again, in new research — ‘Is that what you call good service?’ — by pressure group Ethical Consumer.
The report scrutinises the environmental and ethical records of twenty of the companies now profiting from the privatisation of public services — including health, education, care and justice — and rates them among the UK’s most unethical. Companies entrusted with the care of asylum seekers, including unaccompanied minors and families with young children, are among the very worst.
While the research takes into account a wide range of criteria from factory farming to tax evasion, some of the categories are of particular relevance to assessing a company’s suitability to hold a duty of care over vulnerable persons. G4S and Serco, who dominate UK immigration escorting and detention, have the lowest possible rating for the ‘human rights’ category, contributing to their being placed in the very bottom rungs of the report’s ethical table.
Another significant category is ‘political activity’, where Ethical Consumer finds a “corporate culture of widespread lobbying to gain access to Whitehall power-brokers, donations to political parties and a revolving-door policy of former government ministers heading straight into jobs with some of the companies surveyed.” G4S and Serco scored the worst possible rating for this category.
G4S runs several immigration detention facilities, including the newly opened and euphemistically named ‘pre-departure accommodation’ incarcerating families and children. Ethical Consumer’s report is the latest in a long line of damning criticisms of the company and its practices, including two separate reports published in July by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, and Amnesty International. Last year an assessment of safety conditions at Brook House, one of the G4S centres, showed ‘the worst ever results’.
Given the numerous accounts in these reports of policy breaches, inadequately trained staff and both physical and mental damage caused to detainees while in the care of G4S — not to mention the death of Jimmy Mubenga after ‘restraint’ by G4S last year — it is unsurprising that the company scored so poorly with regard to human rights.
With regards to ‘political activity’, G4S pays £50,000 a year to former defence secretary John Reid MP (now Lord Reid) for ‘strategic advice’, an appointment made mere months before G4S were able to secure a lucrative four year MoD contract and while Reid was still a serving MP.
For its part, Serco has been criticised many times for the conditions at Yarl’s Wood detention centre which led to repeated hunger strikes by detainees, as well as recent condemnation of conditions at Colnbrook centre near Heathrow Airport.
That responsibility for caring for those in administrative detention — including children and vulnerable adults — is in the hands of such companies is a long-standing scandal. The government’s rapid acceleration in its abrogation of responsibility in favour of companies that fail so spectacularly to meet ethical standards will soon touch all our lives.
Back in March, almost a year after the government had promised to end what Nick Clegg called the “shameful practice” of locking up asylum seeking families in conditions known to harm their mental health, Barnardo’s stunned children’s advocates by revealing that it had agreed to work with the UK Border Agency and security giant G4S at the new immigration detention centre for families with children at Pease Pottage near Gatwick that’s opening later this Summer.
Frances Webber, vice chair of the Institute of Race Relations, accused Barnardo’s — Britain’s biggest children’s charity — of providing “a cloak of legitimacy to the continued detention of children”. Former children’s commissioner for England and internationally renowned paediatrican Sir Al Aynsley-Green wrote in OurKingdom that this “worrying development” sparked the question: “are the big children’s organisations effective advocates for children, or are they friends of government?”
Stung by such criticism Barnardo’s chief executive Anne Marie Carrie last month made comments widely reported as a tough-talking “ultimatum” to UKBA, saying the charity would pull out of the working partnership if children and families were not treated properly. But can we trust Barnardo’s to stand up to the government?
We, being students and members of SOAS Detainee Support who visit immigration detainees and offer them support, have campaigned hard against child detention. In May last year we picketed G4S’s annual meeting, argued with the company’s chief executive Nick Buckles (who, by the way, is paid almost £5000 every day), and landed a picture in the Daily Telegraph’s city pages. In June last year, we ran the Release Carnival, bringing together campaigners and child refugees to march on Downing Street.
When this past March Barnardo’s threw in its lot with Nick Buckles and the UK Border Agency we felt utterly dismayed, let down, betrayed. When we visited Barnardo’s HQ at Barkingside in Essex to express our disappointment. We were sent away and told to study Barnardo’s website so we’d understand what they were doing. We read. It still looked wrong. We made a second visit, intending to distribute a leaflet outlining our objections to staff as they left work. Barnardo’s diverted workers to a rear exit.
Lately we’ve scrutinised Barnardo’s “ultimatum”. Here’s what we make of it.
Barnardo’s seeks to support the most vulnerable children. The families and children held in this accommodation are at their most vulnerable and desperately need our support. Barnardo’s will always help the most vulnerable children in the UK and will work to ensure that asylum seekers are treated humanely throughout their time in the UK.
In May 2010 the coalition government pledged to end the detention of children for immigration purposes – finally recognising the lasting psychological harm it caused. Former Barnardo’s chief exec, Martin Narey, slammed the imprisonment of asylum-seeking families as “unnecessary” and “shameful”. But another ConDem u-turn has meant child detention continues, simply rebranded as “family-friendly pre-departure accommodation”.
As many as 4,445 children could be jailed each year at de facto prisons run by G4S (who may face corporate manslaughter charges over the death of Jimmy Mubenga on a deportation flight). Barnardo’s involvement has already given this sham a fig leaf of legitimacy with councillors who granted planning permission at Pease Pottage reassured by Barnardo’s involvement. Rather than offering a new face to the same agenda of abuse and degradation in immigration detention Barnardo’s should urge the government to keep its pledge and end child detention.
Under new immigration processes families will be given every opportunity and help to leave voluntarily. If they choose not to then an independent return panel, which includes child psychologists and medical experts, will oversee the most appropriate method of return and any specific safeguards which need to be in place.
The ‘independent’ return panel is to provide advice or offer amendments to UKBA on the method of removing the family from the UK. They do not decide the method of removal. UKBA does not have to accept the Panel’s advised amendments. Disagreements will be referred to the immigration minister who will decide how to proceed. Information given to the Panel is kept secret from the family who are unable to contest it even if the information given to the panel is wrong, out of date or fresh evidence has become available. The advice the Panel gives the UKBA is kept secret. There is no built-in external scrutiny and the panel cannot be considered independent due to many members being UKBA and governmental staff.
Barnardo’s says (about the Government’s new immigration processes and UKBA’s pre-departure accommodation):
All this adds up to a system which has ambitions to be fundamentally different — which seeks to safeguard children and treat families and children with compassion.
That is why one of my first decisions as chief executive was to agree that Barnardo’s provides the welfare and social work services within the accommodation.
But how can Barnardo’s talk of ‘a system which has ambitions to be fundamentally different — which seeks to safeguard children and treat families and children with compassion’ when the UK has lately lost its two largest providers of legal aid representation to migrants and asylum seekers and more reputable voices tell us tens of thousands of the most vulnerable in our society are at the mercy of the UK Border Agency’s arbitrary and often unlawful actions?
As a last resort, a short stay should include expert family support to ensure humane treatment. Barnardo’s accepts that, as a last resort and after consideration by an independent panel, children and families may need to be kept in secure pre-departure accommodation for a very short period of time. Barnardo’s wants to ensure that these families are treated humanely with respect and dignity, and are given the correct support through access to welfare and social work services ahead of their departure. It is critical that families and children have someone to turn to during this extremely stressful and difficult time.
It is critical that, after an analysis of all the medical evidence, families and children are not detained at all. Barnardo’s saying they are making the situation better by being there is like someone agreeing to be a hangman because they can make the death less painful than another. The families detained will be those who — except in ‘exceptional circumstances’ — have not complied with any of the other attempts at removal. This might very well be because they are terrified to go back, and being locked up will be extremely frightening and traumatic. The presence of Barnardo’s will not ease this fear as long as they are still locked up and facing deportation.
We see an important part of our role as shedding light on the whole immigration process to ensure it supports those children within it. We are absolutely clear that if policy and practice fall short of safeguarding the welfare, dignity and respect of families, then Barnardo’s will raise concerns, will speak out and ultimately, if we have to, we will withdraw our services.
The “red-lines” set down by Barnardo’s are no use at all. The research (and common-sense!) shows that even one week in detention is long enough for a child to be severely affected. As a children’s charity Barnardo’s should not help the UKBA detain and deport people, it should speak out against child detention FULL STOP.
We’re visiting Barnardo’s again today to ask them to stop spinning and start listening to and defending vulnerable children such as this child detainee quoted in the Medical Justice report State Sponsored Cruelty: “I am so scared of the Home Office. It is hard times for me and my mum. She would rather kill herself than go back.”
Croydon No Borders are organising a demonstration against the opening of a new family immigration prison (euphemistically referred to by the Home Office as ‘pre-departure accommodation’) on Saturday 30th July, 1pm at Muster Green park, Hayward’s Heath.
Hayward’s Heath is where Mid Sussex District Council, the local authority which approved planning permission for the new asylum prison is based.
G4S who will be running escort and security services at the new prison is still under investigation for the alleged manslaughter of Angolan Jimmy Mubenga who died while being restrained by three escort officers on a flight from Heathrow in October 2010. This shocking case is also being investigated by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.
Meanwhile, G4s ‘corporate partner’ and ‘Play facilities’ provider at the prison will be children’s charity Barnado’s against whom an active campaign is running involving the disruption of fundraising events and the picketing of Barnado’s shops and head offices.
Saturday’s demonstration will also provide an opportunity to protest against the opening of a new high security child detention unit at the expensively refurbished Tinsley House near Gatwick Airport, and G4S’s ‘distressing and objectionable’ practice of arresting and forcibly escorting ‘reserve’ detainees to bundle on to deportation flights if the intended victims are unable to fly. See Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prison’s investigation of the G4S operation at Tinsley House reported in The Guardian 26 July 2011.
Please rememver to bring your banners, placards and instruments and demand an end to detention and deportation.
(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?
Campaigners against the opening of new family detention facilities which are to be jointly provided by the global security and prisons corporation G4S and the UK children’s charity Barnardo’s have announced a BARNADO’S TELETHON for Tuesday 26 April 2011.
London NoBorders are urging opponents of Barnardo’s involvement in the brand new detention facility at Pease Pottage in Sussex, which has the capacity to detain in excess of 1,400 people per year, to call their nearest Barnardo’s regional office on Tuesday 26th April to protest against the charity’s involvement in the detention and deportation industry.
Below are the contact numbers for all the Barnardo’s regional offices:
London and South East 020 8551 0011
South West 0117 937 5500
Yorkshire 0113 393 3200
Midlands 0121 550 5271
North West 0151 488 1100
Scotland 0131 334 9893
Wales 0292 049 3387
North East 0191 240 4800
Northern Ireland 0289 067 2366
For more info about the pre-departure accommodation see:
Syd Bolton, Solicitor, Children’s Legal Centre*
*This is the text of the speech that Syd Bolton gave to the End Child Detention Now/Shpresa
Keep Your Promise campaign launch, Oxford House, Bethnal Green, London, 26th March 2011.
Thank you all for being part of this campaign and for inviting me to take part in
this important event. On a day of united action across the UK against public sector
cuts; against the loss of essential services and tens of thousands of jobs in the
public and voluntary sectors especially; we must not lose sight of the very close
relationship between unemployment and hostility to migrants; between ever
stricter border controls and the politics of insecurity. The free movement and
privileges enjoyed by global corporations are in stark contrast to the restrictions,
conditions and barriers placed in the way of families, their children and relatives,
to enjoy their lives together in safety, dignity and with respect.
The use of immigration detention is an important cornerstone of the border
policing mentality of not just the UK, but the bigger joint enterprise that is the
European Union. It is a bitter irony that only a few weeks before Libya was
bombed, Gaddafi’s government was one of Europe’s official frontier gatekeepers.
Turning people back from Sub-Saharan Africa trying to reach safety in Europe.
I say all of this to place in context the continuing use of immigration detention for
families with children.
Last year, the new coalition government announced it would end child detention.
But it quickly became evident during the summer-long UK Border Agency (UKBA)
detention review process that this was a measure that UKBA would not give up
lightly, whatever the political intentions.
Call me naive but I had always understood that when a Minister made a public statement
it was meant to be enacted by the civil servants, not undermined. But all summer, the
UKBA made it plain that they were not willing to give up the power to detain children,
as part of the policy of ending the detention of children. In the many discussions about
how to end detention held with the UKBA over that review period, it was clear that the UKBA
simply would not entertain the possibility of a major plank of its border control
powers being removed.
Despite the political rhetoric and constantly asking the NGO sector to come up with
alternative solutions – which we did, repeatedly – at the end of the process, the
ultimate sanction of detention could not be taken away. The forceful views of the
UKBA were made to such an extent that the bold and brave political statements made
at the beginning of this new government’s tenure could not hold, and the Minister had
to reframe his language and speak in a more equivocal voice, compromising with the
UKBA on how far the ending of detention would be allowed to go.
The euphemisms abound, but the reality remains. Let us not buy into the spin
that detention of children has been ended. As the UKBA said in their glossy
presentations when this was announced just before Christmas, ultimately, as a
last resort, pending “ensured return” a few families would continue to be
detained but in much reduced numbers, for much shorter periods, in more
suitable “pre-departure (secure) accommodation” (whatever this might turn out
In other words, after all the hype, the UKBA has only agreed, after huge pressure
from campaigners, international observers, the courts and child health experts, to
move back to the position it had always claimed to be the case under its family
detention policies and operation instructions; that immigration detention of
families should only be used in exceptional circumstances and for the shortest
Statistics and a recent succession of high court cases have shown that
those policies have not being followed and there remains a major
tension between child safeguarding and enforcement policies within the UKBA.
From a situation of the commonplace use of detention of families to one where it
may be used sparingly, indeed exceptionally and with a potentially more
transparent and accountable decision making and review process along the way is
a hard won and significant victory, make no mistake. Only time will tell whether
this actually happens in practice.
But it does not end child detention. The move simple re-brands detention. Other
respected voices who during the review had rather pragmatically, rather than it
seems on any principled basis, endorsed 72 hours detention at the end of the
process, have now changed their minds publicly and described it simply as a
repackaging exercise and called for an overhaul of the whole system.
This is not just our opinion. It is a fact that this new accommodation is detention,
whether it is called pre-removal accommodation or not; whether it has a play
area and no bars on the windows, whether after a risk assessment, families might
be permitted to go out on day release or let their children go out with detention
It is detention because the UKBA says so.
At a recent event to launch the new process, a senior Border Agency official said:
“legally it is detention, but it will look and seem totally different.”
And a UKBA fact sheet on pre-departure accommodation answers the question:
‘What rules will apply and under what legal power will you prevent
families leaving?’ with the answer:-
‘Powers to require the family to remain at the accommodation are derived
from Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971. It will ultimately be
operated in accordance with new Short Term Holding Facility Rules.’
So we are left with a new, potentially better decision-making process. Only as a
last resort will detention be used, and the welfare of children is now supposedly
central to the considerations of whether or not to detain. Where this is
authorised, these conditions will satisfy statutory safeguarding and welfare
These processes now need to be tested and scrutinised. Already they seem to be
found wanting. The new family removals panel is not as transparent as it looks on
paper and it seems like it will operate more like the Special Immigration Appeals
Court panel, (the anti-terrorism court) where the subject in question does not get
to take full part or to see all the evidence, deliberations and reasons. The family
removals review panel itself does not seem to have relevant child welfare and
health expertise and will not publish its detailed findings. It is predicated on how
to remove, not whether to remove. It does not seem to have the best interests of
the child at the heart of its considerations.
There has been a lot of criticism in the media recently of community and
voluntary organisations choosing to work with the UKBA as part of these new
processes, including the provision of welfare services in detention. I leave it to
others to judge whether or not it is better for non-governmental organisations
(NGOs) to contract to work inside this system to ensure that child welfare
standards are met, or best left to the usual private sector security companies and
to local authorities.
Authorities who, like in Yarl’s Wood, always had difficulties
retaining social work staff and balancing their own resources and interests with
the challenges of meeting the welfare needs of children in detention.
Whether in doing so, the institutionalising culture of a detention environment,
even with nice wallpaper and a garden compound, behind a secure perimeter
fence, will over time affect the responses and attitudes of those responsible for
the safeguarding and welfare of children in that environment, remains to be seen.
The institutionalisation of the prison warder and all those working in jails for long
periods is well researched and documented.
A separate and, in my view, earnest discussion needs to be had about this kind of
contracting, particularly in this climate of austerity. Shrinking funds make it
increasingly tempting or, in some cases, necessary for charities to find funding
wherever the opportunity arises. But there are always high risks in working within
the machinery of state rather than holding it to account from the outside. Should
NGOs remain interested independent parties or become formal partners? What I
do know is that our aims and objectives as charities should not become distorted
by the opportunity that is presented, even where the intentions are good.
That is a choice that faces many not for profit organisations at the moment. Some
may think that they can do it better than the private sector and will be motivated
by the improvements they feel they can bring to bear on difficult and
controversial policies and practices. Others may not be so cautious and careful.
On this version of child detention, time and external scrutiny, including
independent inspection and judicial oversight, will be the judge.
But whether detention is used against parents and their children held together, or
whether a parent is detained and children and other family members are left
isolated on the outside, whether children are supposedly free to come and go
under escort, the facts and the legal position are undeniable. Children continue to
be subject to detention and will suffer from its consequences, directly and
Children will continue to suffer from the developmental and psychological
damage inflicted on them, by being uprooted from the communities they have
grown up in, made friends in, went to school in, were born in and want to live in.
It is not all bad news.
In late 2008 the UK ended its immigration reservation to the UN Convention on
the Rights of the Child, making every child equal in law not just in the rhetorical
assertion that “Every Child Matters”.
In 2009 the UKBA was required to follow statutory safeguarding duties to
safeguard and promote the welfare of children in the exercise of all its functions.
These are major shifts in domestic law and the UK’s acceptance of its
international legal obligations is to its credit. Nonetheless it is taking a long time
to work through into practice, and the courts have found the UKBA slow and
wanting in this regard.
Since the detention review started last year and the new scheme was proposed,
the Supreme Court issued a truly landmark judgment on the best interests of
children whose parents are subject to immigration controls. This ruling includes
British Citizen children who cannot be removed or deported but whose parents
might still be subject to removal, including detention and where this would result
in the constructive deportation of their children.
The case of ZH (Tanzania) v SSHD recognises from the highest court in the UK, that
the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, is an integral part of UK
immigration and asylum law and policy.
In particular the best interests of children must be “considered first in decisions
affecting the child”, “must rank higher than any other”.
The judgement adds:
“It is not merely one consideration that weighs in the balance alongside other
competing factors and where the best interests of the child clearly favour a certain
course, that course should be followed unless countervailing factors of
considerable force displace them.”
The principle extends not just to decisions to remove a child or their family but
decisions to detain children under Immigration Act powers or to the separation of
a child from a detained parent.
The Secretary of State has conceded in court, that any decision which is taken
without having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of any
children involved will not be in accordance with the law.
In other words, where the UKBA detains a child or separates a child from his or
her parent(s) then a failure to show how the child’s best interests and welfare
have been assessed and then taken into account will render the detention
The “quality” of the detention centre and the length of detention may be relevant
factors, but it will be insufficient just to say that it is more child-friendly, or that
there is a now a child welfare provider in the accommodation centre. The needs
and best interests of each and every child have to be properly assessed and
considered when arriving at that decision.
The Supreme Court has said that the wishes and feelings of the child must also be
taken into account. If the UKBA cannot show how they have done this in every
single case, the decision is going to be flawed.
The Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg has gone further still.
In March this year a Grand Chamber judgment in a case called ‘Zambrano’ – a
Belgian welfare rights case – held that a child who is born or registered as a citizen
of a member state of the European Union has all the rights of a European Citizen
under the Treaty of Lisbon.
These include the right of children to have their parents care for them and to
remain with them in the country of the child’s citizenship, so that as children
they are able to enjoy their full European Citizenship rights. This means a
parent who is from a non EU country, irrespective of the parent’s immigration
status, or lack of it, whether a failed asylum seeker or not, must ordinarily
be allowed to stay with their citizen child.
In effect these families, including ones with British Citizen children, are no longer
detainable. If there is no prospect of removal then to detain in these
circumstances will, in my view, also breach the child’s European citizenship rights,
as well as their human rights. Whilst the UKBA clings to its patched-up detention
policies, the highest courts in the UK and in Europe are at long last recognising
the fundamental rights of every child.
Whatever the particular conduct of a child’s parents in their own asylum or
immigration history, the Supreme Court said profoundly in the case of ZH that:
“It would be wrong in principle to devalue what was in their best interests by
something for which they could in no way be held to be responsible.”
In my view, the detention of children is one of the ultimate ways of devaluing
their best interests.
Even if detention is not officially ended, justice and the rights of children demand
that it should be and the courts may finally render it to be an obsolete practice to
be consigned to an unenlightened and unacceptable part of our recent history.