News of the death of Miep Gies reminds us that an ordinary Dutch family summoned extraordinary courage to shield German refugees, the Franks, from the Gestapo.
Until the Nazis invaded Holland, Anne Frank’s family had been able to find work and safety in their adoptive country.
If they had fled to present day Britain, the Franks might be woken at dawn by perhaps a dozen security officers breaking down their door. Given only minutes to pack just a few belongings, they would be forcibly arrested and taken to a secure detention facility, for weeks or months, then, perhaps, returned to the country from which they’d fled. All this without having had access to a lawyer.
Had they resisted boarding a ‘removal flight’ Anne’s parents would have been handcuffed.
Unlike Miep Gies, we don’t have to risk our lives to protect the thousand or more children and babies who, with their traumatised parents, will experience the terror of UK Border Agency raids this year.
We can sign the petition at http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/NoChildDetention, write to our MPs, open our eyes to the serious physical and psychological harm caused to children who are already among the most vulnerable members of our community. We can lend them our voices, and protest.
Campaign supporters gathered outside St Martin le Grand Church in the centre of York just before New Year to protest the detention of children in immigration removal centres over Christmas and to call for an end to all detention of children by the UK immigration authorities.
The government’s Border Agency imprisons between 1,000 and 2,000 children each year many for several weeks despite opposition from the Children’s Commissioner, several Royal Colleges of Medicine and over 100 MPs from all political parties. There is overwhelming evidence that detention is harmful to the health and well being of children, while the Home Office admits that families are very unlikely to abscond when removal directions are issued.
Campaign organiser Esme Madill said: ‘We know of several York families whose children were detained at Yarl’s Wood and who are still fearful of being taken to “the camp” again despite the fact that their case for asylum was subsequently upheld and that they have been granted leave to remain’.
‘No other civilised country treats vulnerable children in this way and we are determined to make 2010 the year when the government’s commitment to respect the rights of the child is genuinely upheld by closing these dreadful children’s prisons once and for all’.
The Shpresa Programme – a charity for Albanian-speaking refugees, asylum seekers and migrants was joined by its members, friends and supporters for a candlelit vigil on behalf of children in detention over the Christmas period.
The vigil which was held at the Lifeline Community Church in Dagenham, Essex is part of the End Child Detention Now campaign. In just two months 3000 people have signed the online petition, including Paddington Bear author Michael Bond and dozens of leading writers and illustrators, hundreds of health professionals, lawyers, teachers and social workers, Bishop Michael Campbell of Lancaster, Emma Thompson and Colin Firth. The St Vincent de Paul Society are committed to collecting signatures across the country on the paper petition. 70 signatures were collected from just one church in York on Sunday 13th December.
Lord Alf Dubs, who was himself a child refugee, said: “Congratulations on your petition and your campaign calling for an end to detention for child refugees. I very much support what you are doing and wish you all possible success.”
Luljeta Nuzi, the Project Director of the Shpresa Programme said: “When you are waiting to hear for a decision about your claim for asylum it is hard enough even without being detained. Putting children in detention is damaging, they can’t understand why they needed to be locked up. We have had to explain to them that it is because they have asked for asylum and they become very upset”.
Esme Madill of campaign group End Child Detention Now said: “It is the sad truth that each year around 1,500 children are detained in the UK. This costly and unnecessary policy is extremely harmful to children. We want Prime Minister Gordon Brown to think about these detainees as children first, and to give them the same rights to be free from fear and distress as other children”.
We are pleased to pass on this message from Paddington Bear to all our supporters, which the writer Michael Bond OBE (and No10 petition signer) has been kind enough to forward:
“Whenever I hear about children from foreign countries being put into detention centres, I think how lucky I am to be living at number 32 Windsor Gardens with such nice people as Mr. and Mrs. Brown.
Mrs. Bird, who looks after the Browns, says if she had her way she would set the children free and lock up a few politicians in their place to see how they liked it!”
In fact it has been an extraordinary few days for the end child detention campaign with a report of Beverly Naidoo and Karin Littlewood’s visit to Yarl’s Wood to run a reading workshop in the Bedfordshire Times & Citizen. Plus coverage of the barring of St Nicholas on ‘security grounds’ from the premises of Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre on Radio 4’s Sunday programme and the Daily Telegraph.
On Wednesday 2 December the Scottish Parliament held a business debate on the detention of children at Dungavel immigration removal centre. The debate, sponsored by SNP MSP Sandra White (Glasgow) revealed an unprecedented cross-party consensus against detaining children in immigration removal centres such as Dungavel.
However, the progress the Scottish government thought it had made in halting the detention of children in Scotland has proved somewhat illusory. As Sandra White told the chamber:
Last year’s commitment to limit the detention of children in Scotland to a maximum of 72 hours appeared at the time to be a step forward. Unfortunately, the measure has simply resulted in children being taken from their homes to Dungavel, held for the maximum 72 hours and then transferred to Yarl’s Wood in England after that period has expired.
This is a cynical manipulation of the Home Office’s undertaking to the Scottish government to limit the detention of children and a shocking indictment of the UKBA’s claim that children’s welfare is paramount. As Sandra White continued:
The lip service that has been paid to the agreement and the way in which the Home Office is getting round the commitment that it made is shameful and totally unacceptable.
By Simon Parker
In a report released today the Home Affairs Select Committee expressed a number of concerns about the detention of children in the UK immigration system but failed to acknowledge that the detention of children for any length of time is abusive and harmful to their well being. In the first part of its report the Committee declares:
‘..it must be remembered that Yarl’s Wood remains essentially a prison…while we accept that conditions have improved, we still regret that such a facility is needed in the first place’.
Unfortunately the committee’s regret that the UKBA runs child prisons did not extend to recommending that the Home Office stop locking children up in them.
‘We are…willing to accept the detention of families and small children provided that this is for short periods of time which ideally are defined in advance, and when this is the very final stage in the immigration removal process’.
It is astonishing that the Select Committee could ignore the very clear advice from the Children’s Commissioner, Sir Al Aynsley Green that,
‘…depriving children of their liberty and detaining them for administrative convenience is never likely to be in their best interests and should be ended’
while they completely ignored the only peer reviewed medical research into Yarl’s Wood that showed that even short periods of detention are damaging to children’s physical and mental health.
This has been a momentous week for the end child detention campaign with the No10 petition recording its 2,000th name – one for every child arrested and locked up by the UK Borders Agency just because they or their parents have dared to claim asylum and refused to be returned to countries the Home Office declares to be “safe” such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Somalia, Zimbabwe and the Congo.
By Clare Sambrook, a co-ordinator of citizens’ campaign End Child Detention Now
Community Care, November 4 2009.
One key feature of government guidance issued this week on how UK Border Agency staff should care for the children they lock up, is ‘safer recruitment’. Officers raiding family homes and searching children in their beds will be thoroughly checked, with ‘references always taken up’.
That begs the question: just how low were standards until now?
Actually, we don’t need to guess how bad things are in UKBA’s asylum-seeker prisons.
Kamila Shamsie, Jeanette Winterson, Gillian Slovo, Hanif Kureishi, Ian Rankin and Nick Hornby among dozens of leading writers calling for child detention to end – Petition shoots past 1,500 – 81 MPs join call to end child detention
In today’s Guardian leading writers urge government halt to child detention:
We have been disturbed by Guardian reports (Children made ‘sick with fear’ in UK immigration detention centres, 13 October) about the government’s detention of asylum-seeking children. Doctors’ findings that children at Yarl’s Wood suffered from confusion, fear, sleep problems, headaches, abdominal pain, severe emotional and behavioural problems, illuminate the deceit in UK Border Agency claims that: “Treating children with care and compassion is a priority.” Locking up innocent children in conditions known to harm their mental health is neither caring nor compassionate. Nor is it necessary. Families with children are the very least likely to abscond. Other countries have found more humane arrangements allowing families to stay together in the community while their cases are being considered, or before their return. Asylum-seeking children are already among the most vulnerable members of our society. Detention wrecks young lives. It must stop, now.