Clare Sambrook, novelist and journalist, has won the 2010 Paul Foot Award for her writing and reporting in support of the campaign to end child immigration detention. Thanking the judges for this ‘massive honour’, Clare told the audience at the Guardian/Private Eye ceremony at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in London this evening that “reading Paul Foot’s books when I was fresh out of university gave me a strong sense of what journalism could and should be.
“This is a massive honour, hugely encouraging and a real boost to the End Child Detention Now campaign at a time when the government has reneged on its commitment to stop this inhumanity.’
Clare’s journalism is rooted in End Child Detention Now, a citizens’ campaign to end the scandal of child detention by the UK immigration authorities — formed in July 2009 by six friends. End Child Detention Now members working unpaid and unfunded: persuaded 121 MPs to sign a parliamentary motion calling for the end of child detention; held vigils and demonstrations in London, York and Dagenham; support families in detention and on their release; addressed the Church of England Synod Public Affairs Council; collaborate with campaign groups including Shpresa, Refugee & Migrant Justice, SOAS Detainee Support, Women for Refugee Women, Yarl’s Wood Befrienders, Welsh Refugee Council, Positive Action in Housing; coordinated a series of public letters in the national press from church leaders, novelists, children’s writers, actors & directors; prompted questions in the Commons, the Lords and the Scottish Parliament and in six months raised nearly 5000 signatures on a national online petition.
Commenting on the rising ECDN campaign towards Christmas 2009, Dr Frank Arnold, clinical director of Medical Justice and an expert in torture scars said:
‘Over many years numerous groups and individuals have attempted to combat the horrible practice of detaining children, families, torture survivors and others who have sought refuge in the UK from brutality in their homelands. The process and the justifications for detention have become ever more illogical and baroque. For the first time, we are beginning to see a truly powerful groundswell against it.’
Shining a light on refugee children’s experience
By Anthony Robinson
Say the word ‘refugee’ to yourself. Without thinking, what images and notions enter your mind?
Now, think about it.
The last Saturday of Refugee Week 2010 was an important day in the lives of four refugee children and their families – a celebration of childhood regained.
We have told their stories in a series of books for children, the Refugee Diaries. At the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, these children’s lives were celebrated. This was a marker for them and all those who have supported and cheered them on – a day to celebrate the longed-for ordinariness of their lives.
My wife, Annemarie Young, and I took this proposal to the publishers Frances Lincoln for two reasons. We wanted to present these children as just that, children. Admittedly, children who through force of circumstance had been caught up in whatever horrors led them to flee their own countries. And make no mistake, all these children fled the threat of brutality and possible death at home, and hardship on the road to hoped-for freedom, on a scale we can only imagine.
And we were driven by our belief in the need to counter the negative stereotypes, misinformation and all too often hysterical and cheap politicisation, so prevalent in parts of the media.
Refugees turn up on our doorstep because they are desperate. They come for a life without persecution. And for the lives and futures of their children. They do what we would do. Can you imagine, even for one moment, what it is like for a mother to grab her only child and head out into the night with nothing except the clothes on her back? And what it feels like to have, ‘We’ll be back for you’ ringing in her ears, delivered by the men who were dragging her husband off? I can’t, but this was the reality for Mohammed’s mother. They come with the thinnest hope. They come begging for refuge. They come because there is nowhere else to go.
Refugees throw themselves on our mercy and we all too often find ourselves lacking. We share a humanity and this needs to be manifest in our response to them. Locking them up, along with their children all too often, denying them basic rights, vilifying them and frequently sending them back to god knows what, is not our humanity manifest. This is not a political problem, it is a human one. It is attendant on us, who so often chide and lecture other governments on human rights, to put our marker down. If we do not do this, how seriously are those ‘other’ regimes round the world likely to take our humanist finger wagging?
Preserving and presenting their stories has been our way of shining a light on the dignity and worth of these children, a dignity that their histories might have denied them.
People ask me how I ‘did’ the children’s voices so well. And how I presented the horrors visited on them in such a ‘low key’ way. The truth of the matter is that the children did it. How this happened was my journey. Hand in hand with the children, we told their stories. All I had to do was become invisible, to be a conduit for them. It is sometimes a writer’s job to take the ‘I’ out of the process.
It was their voices I wanted to transcribe onto the page. The recordings and notes – phrases marked, the unsaids, the listening and re-listening – all informed the process. But it was their voices that moved the hand that wrote the words that told the story. This was the aim of the Refugee Diaries. Read these stories and if you are moved, if you have a different notion of what it is to be a refugee, or even of what it is to be a child, then they have been successful.
Hats off to the four children, Gervelie, Mohammed, Hamzat and Meltem (in absentia) who had a wonderful day in the spotlight, but spare a thought for the ones who did not, or will not make it to celebrate the glorious ordinariness of life.
Anthony Robinson, Cambridge, 21 July 2010
Author of the Refugee Diaries series for children, published by Frances Lincoln: Gervelie’s Journey, Mohammed’s Journey, Hamzat’s Journey. Meltem’s Journey is published on 10 August.
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.
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.