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”.