Category: Beverly Naidoo
It’s not usual to have five-year-olds and 15-year-olds in the same storytelling workshop. But there was nothing usual about the event that illustrator Karin Littlewood and I ran last December for imprisoned children. They were behind bars, not for committing some horrible crime but because they were asylum-seekers, and because we live in a society that forgets it has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – a society that is forgetting human decency.
Our aim that day in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre was to offer such a good time that these young minds would temporarily fly beyond the barbed wire-topped fences, locked doors and gates. For a short while, Karin and I too might almost have forgottten where we were. It was the five-year-olds, two brothers, who reminded us. Avoiding eye contact, even when persuaded to help hold a long reel of paper for a story-drawing, these little boys told us through their body language and silent faces that they were traumatised.
All these children had experienced the terror of a dawn raid by the UK Border Agency and forced removal to detention-cum-prison. Some 2,000 children are put through this ordeal every year, even though families don’t abscond. As Dave Wood of the UK Border Agency let slip in evidence last year to a parliamentary committee, ‘it is not terribly easy for a family unit to abscond’.
So why does our Government continue to lock up children in conditions known to harm their mental and physical health? With an election coming up, few politicians want to risk being seen as ‘soft’ on asylum seekers.
But the medical profession has taken the lead in calling for the immediate end to child detention. Many children’s authors have spoken out strongly, and I call upon early years professionals to take action. My friends at End Child Detention Now can help you. Contact them at www.ecdn.org, which also has links to the public petition and the doctors’ petition. And hold your parliamentary candidates to account.
A pdf of the article can be found here.
CUMBRIAN bookseller, Derek Robinson, spent Christmas Day making the 500-mile round-trip to Bedfordshire to deliver books and puzzles for the innocent children locked up at Yarl’s Wood detention centre.
Derek, whose trip is featured in this week’s Big Issue In the North, owns Penrith’s Bluebell Bookshop. He said, ‘I wanted to bring the very best books we could find, stories of other worlds beyond what the children are enduring, of love, amazing imagination, freedom and excitement, a chance to escape for moments from their distress, into artful and wonderful illustrations.’
He was inspired to act by children’s author Beverley Naidoo’s article in the Guardian about her visit to Yarl’s Wood,
Derek has mounted an End Child Detention Now campaign exhibition at the Bluebell, where customers may sign paper petitions or use the shop’s computers to sign on-line at http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/NoChildDetention/.
Our campaign’s Penrith-based co-ordinator, novelist Clare Sambrook, said: ‘We’ve had such encouraging local support. Greengrocers, Green Mangle Organic, are promoting the campaign at their stall. Hundreds of Cumbrians, including the Bishop of Carlisle, many clergy and churchpeople, have signed the on-line petition. Dozens of people have written to MP David Maclean asking him to join the 113 MPs who’ve signed Chris Mullin’s parliamentary motion opposing the detention policy.
‘The children’s authors’ and illustrators’ letter in the Observer, Beverley Naidoo’s chilling Guardian article, and the comment kindly forwarded by Michael Bond from Paddington Bear, have had an impact we could not have anticipated. Many many people are beginning to realise that there are real children locked up in those terrible places, children with the same imaginative and emotional capacity as our children’.
Anyone inspired to highlight the campaign is invited to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Schools, shops, faith groups, trade unions, anyone at all — we’ll be delighted to send images and text for exhibition.
Thanks to Fred Wilson for the picture of Derek Robinson at the Bluebell