Child detention goes on in the UK regardless of government claims to have ended it.
By Tom Sanderson (reposted from OurKingdom) 12 June 2013
A boy was locked up for months at a UK immigration facility earlier this year, according to freshly released official data. The revelation dramatically exposes the falsity of government claims that the harmful practice of detaining children for administrative convenience has ended.
The Home Office does not reveal the boy’s exact age or the precise length of his incarceration, only that he was aged 12 to 16, and held for between two and three months at Campsfield House, an adult immigration jail near Oxford.
Classed as an immigration removal centre, Campsfield holds 216 male detainees, many in multiple occupancy rooms furnished with bunkbeds. It is run for the government by commercial contractors Reliance Security Task Management.
In all 37 children were locked up for immigration purposes in the first three months of 2013. The Home Office concedes that the number would have been still higher, but Tinsley House removal centre, near Gatwick, was closed to new detainees for most of the period due to an outbreak of infectious illness.
“Since the start of 2011, the overall trend for children entering detention has risen,” said the Home Office.
Yet the government maintains the fiction that it has ended child detention as it promised to do in the Coalition Agreement of May 2010. “We will end child detention for immigration purposes,” they said then.
In December 2010 deputy prime minister Nick Clegg announced the immediate closure of the family unit at the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire. He promised child detention would “end completely” by May 2011.
The Liberal Democrat leader spoke movingly of children “locked up, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months, in one case for 190 days — something no innocent child should ever have to endure”. Clegg’s rhetoric of compassion gave his party a much needed ‘win’ in a pre-Christmas period rocked by student protest and accusations of betrayal.
But child detention did not end. Instead it was rebranded as “family friendly pre-departure accommodation”. Or PDA for short. The government opened a new detention facility in August 2011, in the Sussex village of Pease Pottage. They called it Cedars, a government acronym for Compassion, Empathy, Dignity, Approachability, Respect and Support.
The first report on Cedars by the Prisons Inspectorate, in October last year, revealed that staff had used “substantial force” against a pregnant woman causing “significant risk of injury to her unborn child”. Children and their parents had been forcefully restrained. One mother had been grabbed by her hair. More than half of the families held been arrested in dawn raids repeatedly criticised over years as unnecessarily distressing.
Both Cedars and Tinsley House, the facility near Gatwick airport where a 10 year old girl tried to strangle herself in 2009, are run by the security company G4S. That company is currently facing an inquest over the death of another detainee, Jimmy Mubenga. Charity outsourcer Barnardo’s works in partnership with G4S at Cedars.
Since December 2010 child detention has been recorded in every quarter.
The numbers of children detained are far lower than under Labour when they peaked at perhaps 2000 annually, but higher than might have been inferred from Clegg’s forecast of “tiny numbers of cases” detained as “an absolutely last resort”.
Remarkably, Clegg continues to take credit for ending child detention even though it demonstrably goes on. “It’s because of us that children are no longer detained for immigration purposes,” he claimed this past March. This was one of his “proudest achievements in government”.
Please support the Day of Action against Barnardos on Thursday – a so-called ‘children’s charity’ that makes the disgusting and shocking mistreatment of families like the Salehs possible and whose so-called ‘red lines’ are just insults to the injuries dozens of families continue to experience as they are dawn raided, detained and forcibly deported to who knows what danger or further persecution…
Further details at
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
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.
I’d firstly like to thank the Shpresa Programme for inviting me to address you all today. My name is Tom Sanderson and I’m here to represent the campaign group End Child Detention Now.
To start with I’d like to tell you a bit about our campaign which began in 2009. Since then we have been working to put pressure on the UK government to stop placing children into immigration detention centres. We do not accept monetary donations from any organisation, although we are very happy to work with others who share our determination to bring an end to the imprisonment of children in the UK.
In this regard we have been very lucky to have been able to collaborate so often with the wonderful people at Shpresa. The insightful and moving video recorded and produced by Manuel has been such a useful campaign tool, and all the young people from the organisation who made the trip up to York to dance, to read poetry and generally made a huge contribution to making our own event during last year’s Refugee Week so engaging and vibrant.
And of course Lulji, Evis, Flutra and the entire Shpresa team have worked so tirelessly to support us in our campaign. Our deepest thanks go out to you all, you really have been invaluable to our cause.
So why are we so passionate about this issue?
Well, there have been many studies and reports which have confirmed the immense mental and often physical damage that children are subjected to when they are held in these detention centres, and there is actually quite a wide consensus that the practice breaches a raft of child rights.
We are by no means the only group that have been campaigning to end this, and there have been many statements denouncing the detention of children from high-profile figures, including doctors, lawyers and even members of parliament. Given the widespread opposition to the practice, it does seem surprising that nearly two years have passed, and in that time great effort has been expended by us and several other groups including Shpresa, and yet we still live in a country where a child can be effectively imprisoned not because of their actions, but simply because of the arbitrary lottery of nationality.
This is not to say there has been no progress. The family section of Yarl’s Wood detention centre has been closed, and the numbers of children detained have been significantly reduced. We have even had a promise from the current coalition government that they would bring an absolute end to what they themselves have referred to as a ‘scandal’ and a ‘moral outrage’.
So why, then, are we still campaigning?
Sadly, this promise has so far been largely empty. It seems especially empty in light of the new pre-departure accommodation facility currently being built not far away near the Sussex village of Pease Pottage. The site is scheduled to begin detaining families from the end of September, and as noted by Professor Heaven Crawley it can potentially accommodate nearly four and a half thousand children each year.
Although the new facility has been described by the UK Border Agency as family friendly, the site will still include a wire security fence over two metres high and CCTV cameras within apartments. Detainees will not be allowed to leave the site unless they make an application to do so and there is no obligation for the security staff to approve these.
In our view, this is still detention regardless of what they call it, and therefore children held there will be damaged in the same way as those that were detained in Yarl’s Wood and other removal centres.
The fact that the UK Border Agency has persuaded the charity Barnado’s to help them run the facilities there appears to have satisfied some groups that child detainees will not be harmed, and seems to have convinced them that the campaign has been won and that they – and we – should be satisfied with the compromise.
But we believe there can be no compromise when innocent children are still being victimised and mentally damaged by our own government. We are not ready to accept that this is the best that can be done, and go quietly back to our day jobs.
It is the detention itself which causes such damage to the children placed in it, and we doubt that it will make any difference to these frightened, confused, but blameless children whether some of the staff wear the uniform of a charity or that of a private security firm like G4S.
This company, are facing possible charges of corporate manslaughter after the death of deportee Jimmy Mubenga while being restrained by their staff during deportation. This company have now been chosen to play the role of ‘bad cop’ at the new detention centre.
In our view, this is still a scandal. It is still a moral outrage. So we will continue to fight against the ‘state-sponsored cruelty’ that persists despite the pledges made by our leaders in Westminster, for as long as it takes to truly bring it to an end, and we know that the Shpresa Programme will stand with us too. Thank you all.
(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: