Category: Prime Minister

‘Barnardo’s! Please quit the child detention business’

Alida Alisis, this article originally appeared in openDemocracy on 8 August 2011.

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 says:

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.

We say:

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.

Barnardo’s says:

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.

We say:

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.

 We say:

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?

Barnardo’s says:

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.                      

We say:

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.

Barnardo’s says:

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.

We say:

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.”

Keep Your Promise Campaign Launches

At a Conference in Birmingham today (Saturday 22 January), delegates from the Baptist Union, Methodist and United Reformed Churches will be asked to send postcards to Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg urging the coalition government to keep its promise on ending child detention.

The postcards were designed by the young people from Shpresa Programme, an Albanian Refugee Community Organisation in East London that has worked with ECDN to draw attention to the plight of children and young people in immigration detention.  The Keep Your Promise campaign is a result of Shpresa young people expressing their concern that while the government has promised to bring an end to child detention, children will continue to be detained at Tinsley House, near Gatwick, at least until May 2011.

The Baptist Union, Methodist Church and United Reformed Church together with ECDN believe that the current alternatives to detention proposed by the Deputy Prime Minister fall a long way short of the commitment that he gave in May 2010.  While welcoming the closure of the family detention facility at Yarl’s Wood, we are particularly concerned that children may continue to be detained with their parents prior to removal at a facility that has been condemned by several reports from Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons.

Esme Madill, campaign coordinator for End Child Detention Now said:

‘The Keep Your Promise campaign is a reminder that the coalition government continues to detain children and families despite Nick Clegg rightly describing the practice as a “moral outrage”. We are also concerned that the alternative system proposed for dealing with the removal of refused asylum seekers still allows for the arrest and detention of children and families at Tinsley House near Gatwick. We call upon the government to keep its promise by passing legislation to ban the practice of detaining families prior to removal and to transfer the consideration of asylum claims away from the UK Borders Agency to an expert independent body whose decisions will not be linked to arbitrarily imposed removal targets.’

Rosemary Kidd of the Baptist Union of Great Britain said:

‘Churches, along with other faith groups, students and community organisations, have been campaigning to end the detention of children for immigration purposes for a long time.  We hope that many people across the country will join in organising postcard writing events around the theme of Keep Your Promise to end
child detention now.’

If you or your organisation would like to send Keep Your Promise postcards please send an email to info@ecdn.org indicating the quantity your require (in multiples of 50) and we will let you know the value of the postage stamps you need to send and the address to send your request.

Release Carnival protesters pledge to keep pressure on government to end child detention

Children from Shpresa march on Downing Street.

Hundreds turned out in the warm sunshine on Saturday June 5th to hear speakers from Citizens for Sanctuary, Outcry!, Refugee and Migrant Justice, No-One is Illegal, Medical Justice, End Child Detention Now and former detainees urge the government to make good on its pledge to end child detention, to rule out the separation of families and all other inhumane alternatives and to treat asylum seekers with the respect and dignity they deserve.

The event was brilliantly organised by the SOAS Detainees Support Group and featured a wonderful dance performance and poetry recital by the children of Shpresa – an Albanian speaking refugee community organisation based in London, face painting, hand print making, a samba band and an amazing human dragon which led the carnival on a march through central London to Downing Street. At No10, Phil from SOAS DSG, Millie and Pamela and 11 year old May Beth handed letters addressed to David Cameron, along with hand prints and a petition calling on the government to release all families and children from detention immediately.

Photo credits: Juliane Heider and Simon Parker.

Paddington Goes to No10 with children’s stop detention petition

corbyn&shpresaJeremy Corbyn MP for Islington North (second from right) joined with ECDN coordinator Esme Madill and Lulji Nuzi, Director of the Shpresa Programme  and a group of young former refugees from Kosovo in presenting 200 hand prints made by refugee children all across North London together with many signatures collected by supporters of the campaign from across the UK to the Prime Minister at No 10 Downing Street on Thursday.

Mr Corbyn greeted the end child detention petitioners by declaring: ‘What you are doing here is really important’.

They were accompanied by Paddington Bear who travelled from Darkest Peru more than 50 years ago. Paddington carried a message from his creator Michael Bond which read:

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!’ Paddington Bear.

The full report from Community Care can be found here.

LibDem Leader Nick Clegg tells PM: stop the scandal of children behind bars this Christmas.

Open letter to Gordon BrownNick_Clegg_1

Nick Clegg 15/12/09

Dear Gordon,

I am writing to urge you to stop the scandal of hundreds of very young children, including toddlers, spending this Christmas locked up behind bars in Immigration Centres in Britain.

One of the best ways to judge the moral compass of a nation is how we treat children – all children.
There is now concrete evidence that the very young children who find themselves locked up even though they’ve done nothing wrong are suffering weight loss, post traumatic stress disorder and long lasting mental distress.
How on earth can your Government justify what is in effect state sponsored cruelty?

Of course we must keep track of adults who are seeking asylum in this country, and deport them where justified. But this can be done through other means.
It is simply indefensible to do so at the cost of the mental and physical wellbeing of very young children.

I would also ask you to lift the paranoid Government secrecy which surrounds the work of the Immigration Centres. Your Government has consistently refused to provide total figures of the number of children detained.
This attempt to cover up such a morally reprehensible practice only makes matters worse.

The British people want us to take a world lead in the way we treat toddlers and children, not to inflict systematic cruelty on them behind a veil of Government secrecy.

I look forward to your urgent reply.

Yours

Nick

Read the full Daily Mail story by Jason Groves  here

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