Category: Unaccompanied minor

Australia sinks to new depths in terrorising would be asylum seekers

“Video of asylum seekers being loaded on to flights to Malaysia will be posted on facebook and Youtube as a scare tactic to frighten off other refugees from coming to Australia illegally on boats”, according to Sky News Australia.

“Every step of the 54 latest arrivals, picked up off the coast of Western Australia on Sunday, will be filmed and then immediately posted online”.

The Australian government’s crude attempt to terrorise would be asylum seekers from making the hazardous see crossing from Indonesia to Christmas Island is but a further example of the Gillard government’s increasingly inhumane approach to the treatment of undocumented migrants.

The Age newspaper reported that as many as 19 unaccompanied minors are due to be processed for deportation to Malaysia – one third of a contingent of 55 that had arrived by boat on Christmas Island since the ‘get tough’ policy had been announced.

To ensure that no passengers can escape their forcible removal to Malaysia, local riot police had been sent to the recently reopened Phosphate Hill detention centre in Western Australia along with a contingent of Royal Malaysian Police.

‘The United Nations’ children’s agency said it was extremely concerned unaccompanied minors may be deported from Christmas Island and called on Mr Bowen not to send them to Malaysia for processing’.

The Australian Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said the children should not be used as a deterrent for people smugglers. ”None of the 19 should be sent to a country where there are not guarantees that they will be protected from harm,” she said, saying the policy left a ”sick feeling in the stomach”.

The UK continues to detain children, a year after the Coalition’s pledge to end it

Simon Parker

(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?

Former Children’s Commissioner calls for fundamental change in culture and mindset of government over child detention

The first Children’s Commissioner for England, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, writing in The Guardian, calls on the government to release the families from Britain’s asylum prisons now.

Aynsley-Green who has done more than any single person to expose the arrest and detention of innocent children, the injustices and sheer horror of their lived experiences, urges: ‘a fundamental change in the culture and mindset of the government, its ministers, its civil servants and its contractors so that the welfare and best interests of children are put first, before the administrative convenience of government.’

This is his first published article since leaving his post as Children’s Commissioner in February 2010.

Nothing in my 30 years’ experience of being a children’s doctor prepared me for my first visit to Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre (IRC) in 2005, soon after becoming children’s commissioner. Using the power given to me by parliament to enter any premises other than a child’s home to interview any child, I asked to be treated as a newly arrested child and to follow their journey through the prison.

I saw a bewildered 10-year-old, smartly dressed in his school uniform alongside his distraught mother – they had been snatched from their home in a “dawn raid”. He asked if his friends knew where he was, worried about his belongings, and didn’t understand what had happened to him, even though I was told he would be deported the next day.

I passed through barred and locked doors where even babies had their nappies searched by prison-like officers, keys a-jangling; withdrawn and deeply traumatised children clinging to their mothers, refusing to eat the unhealthy food provided, with developmental regression, bed-wetting and soiling; mothers struggling to maintain breast feeding; inadequate play and schooling – the litany of human misery was endless. I was appalled and resolved that children seeking refuge would be an immediate priority for my new organisation.

We studied the “journeys” of children seeking asylum – the screening process where unaccompanied children’s claims for asylum were assessed; the process of age determination, including the use of X-rays; the experiences of young people in the care of a local authority, and, through subsequent visits to Yarl’s Wood IRC, the process of arrest, detention and deportation of families, many of whose children were born in the UK, and were well integrated into schools and local communities.

We published rigorous reports of our findings, and exposed to media and parliamentary attention the truth of the appalling life experiences of these children.

Much that is good has now happened – the joint report by the medical Royal Colleges confirming the physical and psychological damage caused by detention; the removal by government of its reservation to article 22 of the UN convention on the rights of the child, thereby giving asylum-seeking children the same rights as British children; the duty of care on statutory bodies to promote the welfare of children; the improvements in the physical environment in Yarl’s Wood IRC; and now, the announcement last week by Damian Green, the new minister for asylum and immigration, of a review to end the detention of children.

But there is unfinished business.

We need a fundamental change in the culture and mindset of the government, its ministers, its civil servants and its contractors so that the welfare and best interests of children are put first, before the administrative convenience of government. A speedy end to the detention of children. The promised “review” should not be an excuse for civil service prevarication. The evidence of harm is overwhelming and for a country that takes pride in safeguarding its children, it is indefensible, and frankly shameful, to force a small group of them into detention where their welfare is known to be at risk. They should be released now. The Local Children’s Safeguarding Board in Bedfordshire is currently investigating serious allegations of sexually harmful behaviour and safeguarding failures in Yarl’s Wood exposed by my most recent report. The full results must be published quickly.

We must know more of what happens to those children deported to their parents’ countries of origin. Are they safe, are they well and are they being cared for?

We need urgent research to establish an ethically sound approach to the assessment of age of individuals who claim to be a child but who have no papers to prove it. Exposing children to radiation (X-rays) for immigration control without medical benefit to them is unethical and, where a child cannot give informed consent, potentially unlawful. The Labour government’s commitment not to use X-rays, extracted under pressure, must prevail.

There must be full public and evidence-based debate about the ethics of using new medical technology – such as DNA analysis – for administrative purposes to assess paternity and country of origin.

The government must monitor the impact of financial cuts to local authorities on the welfare of unaccompanied minors (children who have no parent to look after them) who already are often poorly served.

These are all challenges for the new government and I urge that they are taken seriously. I welcome the news that alternatives to the detention of children will be reviewed. Much remains to be done to show that the UK is seen internationally to be an example of best practice. Will the new coalition government rise to the challenge?

Refugee & Migrant Justice report finds UKBA treatment of children “inhumane and unlawful”

Refugee and Migrant Justice, a charity that provides legal advice and support to asylum-seekers and other vulnerable migrants in the UK, today issued a report  Safe at Last. Children on the front line of UK Border Control which found consistent evidence of the government’s failure to abide by its safeguarding duties under Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009.

RMJ investigated the treatment of over 30 young unaccompanied minors who have been detained at the Port of Dover as “illegal entrants” – all of whom were subject to lengthy and improper interviews, often without access to urgently needed medical treatment or the presence of a responsible adult. Information gleaned from these interviews when the interviewee is exhausted, highly stressed and often in physical pain is frequently used to undermine the credibility of the young person for the purposes of denying their asylum claim. Contrary to UKBA statements there is no evidence that such interviews are held in order to secure the welfare of the child but rather that such children are made to endure the harsh detention and immigration control procedures to which adult suspected illegal entrants are subject. A typical case cited by the RMJ report is that of Ali.

Ali was 14 when he arrived in the UK. He had a very painful bladder condition and the UK Border Agency interviewed him without offering him medical care:

When I arrived in the UK I was arrested and handcuffed. I think the police arrested me. I was feeling very ill and I was tired and hungry. I told the police officers that I was tired and needed to sleep but they said I could not. I was interviewed that night and I don’t know what time it was, maybe 11pm or midnight. I was asked how old I was and I told them I was 13. During the interview I said I felt ill. I had a pain in my genital area and I could not hold my bladder. I told the officers this, but they did not do anything. They just wrote something down and asked the next question. I found it difficult to concentrate as my mind was on this pain. I was also very hungry because I had not eaten anything. I didn’t feel myself. I was too scared to say anything, I was scared that I would be sent back or maybe locked up. I didn’t have anybody there to explain what the interview was about. I can’t even say how long the interview lasted.

About five minutes after the interview finished I was given the opportunity to eat some food but then they locked me up for the night. They did not explain why. It was very cold. I had a short-sleeved t-shirt on. The floor was like concrete and it was freezing. I wasn’t given a blanket or anything for my arms. I didn’t sleep at all. A doctor did not come to see me.

Refugee and Migrant Justice is currently seeking a judicial review of the lawfulness of the UKBA’s detention and illegal entrant interview practices in relation to unaccompanied minors. Because the legal process can be lengthy time consuming, RMJ has called on the the UK Border Agency to discontinue immediately its policy of interviewing children before safeguarding their welfare. It further recommends that

  • UK authorities, including the police, refer children to the children’s services department of the relevant local authority as soon as a child becomes known to them, to ensure their welfare needs are met
  • Children are offered appropriate medical treatment, rest and food immediately after being brought into contact with the UK authorities
  • Interviews only take place after children have recovered from their journey, are well, and have had access to relevant services
  • Children are  given access to legal representation prior to and throughout any interview with the UK Border Agency.
  • The practice of interviewing children alone, by an untrained interviewer and without an independent adult and legal representative being present is stopped.
  • The UK Border Agency recruits a wider range of qualified interpreters to ensure children are safeguarded and correctly understood, as well as understanding the questions put to them. These interpreters should be trained to work with children and have Criminal Records Bureau clearance.
  • The UK Border Agency  urgently publishes its Asylum Policy Instructions on how to assess asylum claims of unaccompanied asylum seeking children. This guidance has been missing for a number of years and without clear guidance to staff on the assessment of asylum claims for children serious problems such as those documented in this report will continue.

Mashal released by judge pending new age determination investigation

Campaigners for the release of young Afghani orphan Mashal Jabari were delighted to hear that following a judicial review being lodged the judge agreed the following interim measures: until another full age assessment is completed, Mashal is to be considered 14 years of age and placed with a foster family in Wales where he has some support.

After being transported in a caged van with an adult detainee on the long journey from Cardiff to Oxfordshire, Mashall was placed in a dormitory with seven adult men. The UKBA planned to put Mashal on a flight to Afghanistan on Tuesday 9 March where his parents and sister had been killed for collaborating with the allied occupation forces. His older brother who has been given refugee status is currently taking his GCSE examinations in Leicester and is frantic with worry at the fate of his younger sibling.

Mashal was released from Campsfield House IRC at around 7.30 on Thursday evening and is now with his foster carers in Cardiff. A full update including details of further action and support that would help Mashal’s case to be resolved quickly and to assist him in beginning to recover from the trauma he has experienced in his own country and here in the UK will follow.

Thank you to everyone who sent letters, faxes and emails to the Home Secretary Rt. Hon. Alan Johnson MP, Evan Harris MP and their local MPs.

The response has been overwhelming, heartening and invaluable.

Welsh Refugee Council urgent call to stop detention and removal of 14 year old Afghan orphan

A 14 year old orphan has been arrested & detained in Campsfield Immigration Removal centre near Oxford, which exclusively holds adult males, and is due to be deported because the authorities claim not to believe he is under 18. His older brother has refugee status — the authorities accept that the older brother is under 18. . .As they say, do the maths.

Welsh Refugee Council today called on UKBA and Cardiff Council to act quickly to release Mashal Jabari, 14 years of age, from Campsfield detention centre, and to suspend removal directions until a full assessment of his age can be made. Welsh Refugee Council does not normally comment on individual cases, but in this instance believes that there are compelling compassionate grounds why this boy should be allowed to remain in the UK.

Zaki Jabar, aged 15, arrived in the UK alone and extremely traumatised in November 2008. He came from Afghanistan and when he left his father was missing presumed dead and his mother was sick. His family had been attacked after his father had given assistance to the American forces, and Zaki had seen his sister killed. He was placed in foster care in Leicester by Rutland Social Services and given Refugee Status. He is currently sitting his GCSEs. He was anxious to trace his younger brother Mashal.

Mashal Jabari arrived in the UK in October last year, and claimed asylum on arrival. By then he knew that both his parents were dead. He was assessed as being over 18 even though he said he was 14. He was sent to Cardiff where he was initially placed in the hostel for adult new arrivals. He was refused asylum in November. Welsh Refugee Council staff working in the hostel, who have now known Mashal for 4 months, have been extremely concerned because he seemed so clearly to be 14 rather than 18 and because he has been depressed and suicidal at the fear of being sent home to Afghanistan.

Mashal’s GP has stated in writing that Marshal appears to be under 18. Social workers in Cardiff are on record as saying that they think Mashal is under 18 following an initial assessment, but they have not carried out a full age assessment and so it has not been possible to persuade the Border Agency of his age.

Mashal said he had an older brother called Zaki who was also somewhere in the UK. Eventually, through a chance encounter, it has been possible for the 2 brothers to be reunited – they met last month in Leicester. Photos of the meeting show them with their arms around each other – Zaki the tall broad shouldered one, Mashal the small, boyish one.

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