Category: Yarl’s Wood
Today OurKingdom publishes Clare Sambrook’s damning indictment of the UK Border Agency’s systematic failure to protect some of the most vulnerable children in Britain – children whose parents have survived imprisonment, torture and rape in the countries they have fled only to find themselves under lock and key for failing to persuade the Home Office that their claim for asylum is genuine.
Children who became victims of abuse while in detention and whose voices can no longer be heard because the UK Border Agency has forcibly removed the victims from the jurisdiction of the UK justice system.
It is a harrowing story, but also an alarming account of institutional collusion, cover up and lying which reveals the complete lack of accountability of Britain’s highly profitable outsourced security state and the politicians and civil servants who are still bent on serving and protecting it.
The appalling Rochdale sexual abuse scandal prompted long-overdue scrutiny of our children’s homes. Another national disgrace ripe for exposure is the UK Border Agency’s serial and repugnant oppression and abuse of vulnerable children over more than a decade. Today OurKingdom publishes Clare Sambrook’s exposé of the Border Agency’s abuse of children and its relentless misrepresentation of evidence of harm. We call upon Parliament to hold ministers, the Home Office and its ugly agency to account. (The material that follows is distressing.)
Lunchtime at Yarl’s Wood
Sunday, 20 September 2009, the UK Border Agency’s Yarl’s Wood detention centre run by commercial contractors Serco.
A woman enters a room and finds a five-year-old child inserting his finger into another five-year-old’s anus, moving it backwards and forwards.
The little boy whose anus has been penetrated tells his mother that one of the other boy’s much older brothers has done this to him several times before. He complains of pain in his bottom, has become emotionally distant, will not let his mother touch him.
A GP employed by Serco does not examine the boy internally, concludes that his bottom is sore because he has scratched it, says psychological effects are a matter of “wait and see”. Bedfordshire children’s services decide not to take the matter further.
There is no investigation of the young people who might have sexually abused the little boys, or of whether they might pose a continuing threat to other children within the detention centre.
The mother’s pleas for a specialist’s opinion, for therapeutic help for her son, for an independent investigation, are all refused.
The Border Agency’s so-called “Children’s Champion”, whose job is to protect and promote children’s welfare and safety, fails to intervene. The Children’s Society, a Church of England charity that provides welfare services to Yarl’s Wood families, also fails to act. Mother and son are rapidly transferred out of Yarl’s Wood and removed from Britain.
A special culture
Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of this story, which is fully documented as we shall see, is that it holds so few surprises for people familiar with the Border Agency’s special culture.
Paediatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists and child welfare experts who have exposed inconvenient truths have seen their work and reputation traduced by Border Agency officials. Their advice has been ignored, summarily dismissed, even derided. Viable alternatives to detention offered by reputable experts have been ignored. Parliament has been repeatedly misled.
Doctors, nurses and charities who step inside the culture may forget their critical faculties, their moral compass and professional ethics.
This dossier highlights just some of the Border Agency’s attempts to misrepresent evidence that children, including the sexually abused little boy, have been harmed in its care. It follows the pattern of misrepresentation and denial all the way to the current “compassionate approach” to child detention — a practice that continues despite the Coalition promise to end it.
An exciting growth market
For the Agency’s commercial partners, security companies G4S, Serco and the rest, immigration detention is one growth market within an “exciting” outsourcing boom, grounded in cosy relations with ministers and civil servants.
The Labour government’s aggressive acceleration of the detention policy in 2001 gave the security industry new opportunities to extract profit from every step of the process: arrest, transport, detention, removal — even healthcare and social work within the rapidly expanding “detention estate”.
The Border Agency and its commercial contractors set about the raiding and detention of families with remarkable enthusiasm and disregard for children’s welfare, detaining up to 2000 children a year in prison-like conditions, sometimes for weeks and months on end, against all professional advice.
The Home Office and its Agency brushed aside repeated warnings fromsuccessive European Union Human Rights Commissioners and repeated recommendations from the HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP), urging over years that the detention of children should happen only in exceptional circumstances, and decisions must be based on “independent and immediate welfare and needs assessments of each child.”
For the border control mind, and commercial contractors’ culture rooted in the cash transit business (G4S), and transport and maintenance (Serco), “children’s welfare” has proved an inscrutable concept.
An HMIP team visiting Yarl’s Wood in the Spring of 2005 found three children who had been detained immediately before their GCSE exams and one autistic five year old so distressed she had not eaten for five days.
England’s first Children’s Commissioner, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, called repeatedly for detention to cease, saying that nothing in his 30-year career as a children’s doctor prepared him for his first visit to Yarl’s Wood.
His first report, “An announced visit to Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre 31st October 2005” records that none of the children he encountered had any idea why they were locked up. Many had been in Britain for years or were born here. One boy in school uniform had been snatched with his mother as he was about to catch his school bus, with no opportunity to say goodbye to his classmates. The children were subjected to body searches, sometimes several times a day. Three had been locked up for more than 57 days.
Handcuffs in hospital
The security industry’s priorities, culture and clout shine in a chilling “Memorandum of Understanding” struck in 2005 between Yarl’s Wood’s managers, GSL, and Bedford Hospital which empowered GSL to handcuff children who needed hospital care. The document (in my possession), which defines a child as “a human being up to the age of 18”, permits GSL escorts to overrule medical objections to the handcuffing of child patients. If doctors or nurses persist in objecting, GSL escorts may insist the cuffs stayed on, pending a decision from a higher authority, namely the GSL Duty Shift Manager who would rule on whether the cuffs stayed on or not, or whether to delay medical treatment “until alternative security measures can be put in place”.
“For staff in general the centre is like a human clearing house,” Yarl’s Wood chaplain Larry Wright told a team from HM Inspectorate of Prisons who visited the detention centre in February 2006. Their report, “Inquiry into the quality of health care at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre”, published in October 2006, found multiple healthcare inadequacies, compounded by the Border Agency’s “unresponsiveness . . . to clinical concerns about an alleged history of torture or adverse medical consequences of continued detention.”
When clinical concerns were raised, the Inspectors found, “the information was not systematically addressed or actioned. Nor was independent medical opinion sought or adhered to.”
HM Prisons Inspectorate urged the government quickly to transfer responsibility for detention centre healthcare from the Home Office to the National Health Service. A very important recommendation, since the Home Office’s behaviour towards people in its care was plainly distorted by its over-riding concern to police national borders.
Serco took over the running of Yarl’s Wood (including healthcare) from GSL in April 2007 with an eight-year contract valued at “around £85 million”.
That same year, under pressure, the government instructed the Border Agency to require all staff dealing with children to undergo mandatory training in child safeguarding. Instead of commissioning an independent, accredited provider, the Agency’s “Children’s Champion” turned to unaccredited G4S. Since then, without any independent scrutiny or evaluation, G4S has trained 7,800 UKBA personnel in “keeping children safe”.**
“Wholly inaccurate” records of child detainees
Children were anything but safe. In February 2008 HM Inspectorate of Prisonslearned that some children detained time and again had been locked up for a cumulative 275 days. “Wholly inaccurate” official figures had calculated their cumulative totals at 14 and 17 days.
Visiting Yarl’s Wood again, in May 2008, Children’s Commissioner Sir Al Aynsley-Green found that “Children’s physical and mental health rarely appears to inform the decision to maintain detention,” and medical assessments were poor.
In his report on the visit, published in April 2009, Aynsley-Green notes that one mother locked up at Yarl’s Wood was a victim of torture with “a severe depressive illness” and “auditory hallucinations”, yet her two-year-old son was assessed by detention centre medical staff as just a “happy boy”. The mother “was prescribed anti-depressants and put on suicide watch in the light of three suicide attempts. Yet no mental health support was provided, nor was an assessment of her parenting abilities conducted.” Aynsley-Green repeated his call for child detention to end.
Roll calls, body searches, sex games
The first peer-reviewed clinical study of children locked up at Yarl’s Wood,“The mental and physical health difficulties of children held within a British immigration detention center,” appeared in the medical journal “Child Abuse & Neglect” in October 2009.
The authors, Lorek et al, a team of NHS paediatricians and a clinical psychologist, recorded children’s “increased fear due to being suddenly placed in a facility resembling a prison”, their weight loss, headaches and tummy pains, their clinical depression and anxiety, the trouble they had sleeping, how older children were so stressed they wet their beds and soiled their pants.
The Lorek team described the body searches, the photographing and the fingerprinting of the children, the roll calls, the ID cards they had to carry at all times, the ten locked doors between freedom and the family centre, the steep deterioration in parents’ mental health and parenting abilities, the self-harm and the suicide attempts.
And the sex games. One father, “spontaneously complained that he had found his daughter in the centre without any clothes on. His child explained that she had been encouraged to undress and play ‘sex games’ instigated by another detained child.”
Another mother, “spontaneously commented on the sexualized behavior of children within the center”.
The doctors wrote: “The high levels of mental and physical health difficulties detected support the view that detention, even for short periods of time, is detrimental and not appropriate for children.”
(One of the authors speaks about their findings on the BBC here.)
The study was sent to members of the parliamentary Home Affairs Committee ahead of their visit to Yarl’s Wood on 15 October 2009 in the course of their inquiry into the detention of children in the immigration system. (The committee’s duties include scrutinising the Border Agency’s work). Committee chairman Keith Vaz MP later reported to the House: “Our visit was somewhat marred by the Home Office officials’ terrible anxiety about the Select Committee visit.”
What the Border Agency did next is quite shocking.
An ex-policeman assesses the medical evidence
The Agency’s director responsible for children and their welfare, the curiously entitled “Director of Criminality and Detention”, Dave Wood, decided to offer his own assessment of the clinical evidence.
Dave Wood is not a paediatrician or a child psychologist. He is a former Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner who led the Met’s Anti-Corruption Squad as Detective Chief Superintendent. (He gave evidence to theIndependent Police Complaints Commission’s 2006 inquiry allegations of police corruption in the Stephen Lawrence murder investigation.)
In September 2009, in oral evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, Wood had said that although absconding wasn’t an issue — “it’s not terribly easy for a family unit to abscond” — families should be locked up anyway, because the lack of detention, “would act as a significant magnet and pull to families from abroad”.
In a memo to the Home Affairs Committee, dated November 2009, Wood set out to be “helpful” and “provide some further details in response to concern you may have about the contents of the [Lorek] report.”
The study, he claimed, “was undertaken without any reference to the UK Border Agency or its clinicians. At no point were healthcare or centre staff, who would have known the children, asked for their views or comments. A number of criticisms are therefore made without any corroborated evidence, or with any opportunity for the centre to comment.”
(Here is Wood on local BBC TV again asserting that the doctors failed to discuss their research).
This was demonstrably false. Lorek’s peer-reviewed study clearly demonstrates their contact with Yarl’s Wood clinicians; indeed the Lorek team’s psychologist had recommended that five parents should be “assessed by a psychiatrist as a matter of urgency due to the severity of their mental health difficulties and the level of risk”.
Meetings the Agency claimed did not happen
What’s more, Home Office documents (in my possession) record that two of the authors presented their research to Border Agency officials in a roundtable discussion held at the office of the Children’s Commissioner for England on 19 June 2007, during which Jeremy Oppenheim, the Border Agency’s then “Children’s Champion” invited the doctors to make a further presentation inside Yarl’s Wood.
And they did, at a formal meeting on 27 September 2007 entitled “Meeting to Discuss Health Impacts of Detention on Children”.
The 26 invitees listed on another Home Office document (in my possession) include Serco healthcare staff, Bedfordshire County Council Social Workers, a representative of security company G4S, the Border Agency’s Chief Immigration Officer Fiona Jack, its “Children’s Champion”, its Deputy Director of Enforcement Policy Stephanie Hutchinson-Hudson, its Head of Detention Brian Pollett and its Assistant Director, Detention Special Policy Unit, Simon Barrett.
According to the Home Office Agenda, at 10.10 am, after an introduction from the “Children’s Champion”, two of the authors, Dr Lorek and Dr Nesbitt, gave a presentation entitled, “Physical and Mental Health Difficulties of children within a UK Immigration Detention Centre”.
The Home Affairs Committee’s report, The Detention of Children in the Immigration System was published on 29 November 2009. It completely ignored the Lorek study.
It is hard to understand this significant omission. Perhaps MPs on the committee simply accepted Wood’s assertion that the study “was undertaken without any reference to the UK Border Agency or its clinicians.” It seems that they did not challenge him. But even if what he alleged were true, the weight of Lorek et al’s professional assessment surely ought to have commanded the respect of the committee and formed part of their report.
Still, the evidence of harm to children did not stay buried long.
Royal Colleges exhume evidence of harm
On 10 December 2009 The Royal College of General Practitioners, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Royal College of Psychiatrists and the UK Faculty of Public Health issued a joint statement drawing upon Lorek et al’s evidence and urging the government to stop detaining children “without delay”.
Until detention stops, said the Colleges, detained children and young people should be referred immediately to Local Authority children’s social care as “children at risk of significant harm”. No child or young person with mental health problems or at risk of developing them should be detained. The Colleges, echoing urgent advice from HM Inspectorate of Prisons a full three years before, urged the government to put detention centre healthcare into the hands of the National Health Service and not the Home Office.
The Colleges’ widely publicised statement was backed by the Royal College of Nursing, the Association of Child Psychotherapists, British Association of Social Workers, the British Psychological Society and the UK Council for Psychotherapy.
But it cut no ice at the Border Agency, whose Director of Criminality and Detention Dave Wood assured The Guardian: “Treating children with care and compassion is a priority. Families at Yarl’s Wood should get the same level of care available on the NHS, and they do.”
On 14 December 2009, the Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael asked the Labour government when it would stop detaining children. He said: “The report published last week by the coalition of the royal medical colleges made it clear that children who are detained in immigration removal centres suffer from mental health problems and consider self-harm and occasionally even suicide.”
Minister Meg Hillier, briefed by officials a few days previously, parrotted the Border Agency’s false claim about Lorek et al’s research:
“Let me point out that the report in question . . . did not take into account the views of the clinicians who worked with those children and who know them.”
And so, again, medical evidence of children’s suffering was misrepresented and dismissed, and again Parliament was misled.
Security industry nurses see “jolly happy children”
Amid continuing grave concern about medical ethics and competence inside the “detention estate”, the Royal Colleges had reminded practitioners working for the Border Agency and its commercial contractors of the basic competencies of their craft — history-taking, examination, investigation, treatment, referral and record-keeping, and of their legal duty to declare children unfit to be detained where detention appears detrimental to their mental health or wellbeing.
Nurses employed by Serco at Yarl’s Wood routinely described child detainees in medical notes as “jolly” and “happy”, according to the third and final report on Yarl’s Wood from Sir Al Aynsley-Green in February 2010 (“The Children’s Commissioner for England’s follow up report to: the arrest and detention of children subject to immigration control”).
The father of a 12-year-old girl told the Children’s Commissioner’s team that she had been arrested, beaten, sexually abused and humiliated by Nigerian soldiers. On admission to Yarl’s Wood she was mute, refusing food for seven days. About one Yarl’s Wood child whose mother had been raped in Africa and was hepatitis B positive, Serco nurses wrote under family history, “nil of note”.
The Children’s Commissioner, an eminent paediatrician, reported that the Border Agency continued to send children unvaccinated to areas where TB is prevalent and measles and malaria endemic. More than a year after he had suggested it, the provision of bed nets was “still under consideration”. Aynsley-Green repeated his call for child detention to cease.
A covert attack on the Children’s Commissioner
The Border Agency had read the Children’s Commissioner’s report in advance of publication. Yet again, its response to expert medical advice was to go on the attack.
The Home Office press office circulated an unattributable and defamatory advance note to journalists, undermining the integrity of Aynsley-Green and his work. That extraordinary note, which invented inaccuracies in the report and then knocked them down, can be found here on page 13 of my own Parliamentary submission on official lying.
The black-ops briefing got results: Aynsley-Green’s February 2010 report was arguably under-reported in the media. And the Border Agency carried on misleading.
Agency officials and their commercial partners Serco gave a positive, upbeat presentation about children’s experience of detention to Bedford Borough Council’s Children’s Services Committee on 23 February 2010, assuring committee members that the Children’s Commissioner’s report contained “issues” that were “unsupported or factually incorrect”.
But inconvenient evidence of distress and physical damage kept on piling up. In March 2010 the government published Baroness Nuala O’Loan’s independent inquiry into evidence of widespread abuse of asylum detainees, including children, at the hands of Border Agency escort contractors, including G4S. The abuses had been documented in the 2008 Medical Justice reportOutsourcing Abuse. O’Loan’s inquiry found that there was “inadequate management of the use of force by the private sector companies”; she made 22 recommendations for change.
Readers might by now be able to guess what the Border Agency did next.
In a foreword to O’Loan’s report, Border Agency chief executive Lin Homer attacked the doctors and lawyers who had brought the abuses to light, accusing them of “seeking to damage the reputation of our contractors”.
Leaving aside the defamatory nature of Homer’s allegation against the doctors and lawyers, it is the case that “reputational risk” is a commercial matter and the proper concern of the companies themselves, their executives, directors and shareholders — not for the Home Office.
Only months after the Border Agency had dismissed the evidence of abuse by escort contractors, a previously healthy man called Jimmy Mubenga diedduring a form of “restraint” by private escorters G4S exposed as dangerous inOutsourcing Abuse.
The sexually abused little boy is not totally forgotten
The little boy sexually assaulted over and over again during his weeks locked up at Yarl’s Wood in the autumn of 2009 might have been forgotten by the Border Agency, its contractors and the resident children’s charity. But somebody else had found out about him.
The Children’s Commissioner’s team, in their review of the detention centre medical notes, had spotted the little boy’s horrible ordeal, had noted the lack of proper investigation, that safeguarding procedures had not been followed, had noted the mother’s desperate requests for independent investigation and medical examination, and that they had all been refused.
Sir Al Aynsley-Green sent a detailed and confidential report on the case to Bedford Borough Council, the UK Border Agency, Serco and Bedfordshire Local Safeguarding Children Board, whose Serious Case Review Panel commissioned an independent investigation in October 2009. The panel decided that “a legally qualified person, independent of all the participating agencies” should conduct the Review, and appointed a barrister and mental health review tribunal judge in December 2009, causing real anxiety to Border Agency executives and their commercial partners, Serco. The profitable business of locking up families at Yarl’s Wood, which served as a useful deterrent in border control, was in jeopardy.
Only weeks ahead of the 2010 General Election, and before the independent investigation had made its findings public, the Home Office handed Serco a £32 million contract, without competition, to carry on running Yarl’s Wood for three more years.
The Coalition Agreement of 12 May 2010 promised to end the detention of children, but instead of immediately ending it, immigration minister Damian Green said on 15 May that he was “launching a comprehensive review of alternatives to child detention, including opening a dialogue with relevant stakeholders, organisations and experts.”
To lead this Review, a legally qualified person, independent of all the participating agencies was not appointed. Damian Green turned instead to the Border Agency’s own Director of Criminality and Detention Dave Wood, who would co-chair a “working group” of invited civil society and voluntary sector groups. The other co-chair was the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund to whom besieged Border Agency executives had turned for help in the anxious months ahead of the General Election. The Fund’s representative, Patrick Wintour (founder of the Employability Forum), had engaged in private pre-election talks over months with officials — including chief executive Lin Homer, deputy chief executive Jonathan Sedgwick, the latest “Children’s Champion” Kristian Armstrong, and Dave Wood.
The Review started work formally on 1 June 2010. (Its terms of reference arehere.) Immigration minister Damian Green told Parliament on 17 June: “We are carrying out the review as fast as humanly possible, so that the detention of children for immigration purposes can end and a practical alternative be put in its place.”
That might have been Damian Green’s intention, but it was no part of the Border Agency’s plan.
A shameful account of institutional incompetence
On 14 June 2010 the Bedfordshire Local Safeguarding Children Board released an executive summary of the independent investigative report into the case of child sexual abuse that had been so disgracefully mishandled. The investigators found that the Border Agency, the Agency’s “Children’s Champion”, its independent social workers, Serco’s medical staff and social workers, Bedford Borough Council’s children’s services and the local police had all failed in their duties to safeguard children in the Border Agency’s care.
What’s more, Border Agency officials had — yet again —misrepresented evidence that children were being harmed and being put at risk of harm. The Bedfordshire independent inquiry found that executives misled ministers about the safeguarding shambles that failed the little boy, and that ministers, relying on the Agency’s misinformation, decided to carry on detaining children:
“UKBA provided information, on the basis of which a ministerial decision was made affecting the continued detention of children. Although that factual information included reference to the incident leading to this review, there was no evaluation of the impact that this incident had on the propriety of detention.”
Malcolm Stevens, a former lead Children’s Services Inspector with the government’s Social Services Inspectorate, described the findings as “a shameful account of institutional incompetence”.
Commenting in The Daily Telegraph on 18 June 2010, Stevens urged the government to “reconsider the wisdom of its decision to repeat the error of the previous government in allowing the organisation most culpable – the UK Border Agency – to lead its current review of services for children in detention.”
He went on: “From the recommendations of this review, if there is one thing on earth that Border Agency should not do, it is that.”
But the government did not reconsider, and the Border Agency carried on leading the Review, with thoroughly predictable consequences:
“All summer, the UKBA made it plain that they were not willing to give up the power to detain children, as part of the policy of ending the detention of children,” said one participant, Syd Bolton, co-director of the Refugee Children’s Rights Project, Children’s Legal Centre.
“In the many discussions about how to end detention held with the UKBA over that review period, it was clear that the UKBA simply would not entertain the possibility of a major plank of its border control powers being removed.” (Bolton was speaking on 26 March 2011 at the launch of End Child Detention Now’s “Keep Your Promise” campaign.)
Rebranding child detention
What emerged from the Review was not an alternative to detention, but detention rebranded.
A new detention facility called “Cedars” opened on 17 August 2011, with a new vocabulary (“family friendly” “pre-departure accommodation”), run by a familiar security company, G4S, and with the same fundamental safeguarding flaw highlighted in the Bedfordshire Safeguarding Children Board independent report on Yarl’s Wood, namely, “a gap in regulatory arrangements . . . no single agency has an adequate overarching responsibility for regulation of services to children in immigration detention”.
G4S ‘won’ the £15 million contract to run Cedars against no competition. (The name is a government acronym for Compassion, Empathy, Dignity, Respect and Support).
Contract-hungry children’s charity Barnardo’s provides welfare services and delivers, by its presence, a reassuring endorsement. When, last year, an independent doctor asked Barnardo’s to take action about the continuing practice of sending families to danger zones without essential immunisation and malarial protection, Barnardo’s chief executive Anne Marie Carrie replied: “G4S, the UKBA contractor for the site is contracturally responsible for ensuring appropriate health services to residents at Cedars,” and she had raised his concerns with the management team.
The doctor wrote to the G4S site manager and got a reply from the Border Agency in an envelope stamped with the G4S logo; it said malarial protection was a matter for the families and those who “have not arranged any malaria prevention will be provided with an information leaflet”.
A so-called “Independent Family Returns Panel” guards children’s welfare.One of its members is Dr John W. Keen, who has advised the Border Agency for years, and whose assessment of a vulnerable patient was deemed “irrational” and “tainted” by the then Mr Justice Leveson in a 2006 High Court Judgement.
The Border Agency’s office of “Children’s Champion” carries on regardless of its catastrophic failure to intervene on behalf of the sexually abused little boy at Yarl’s Wood, and Border Agency staff continue to be trained in child-safeguarding by G4S.
The Department of Health assumed policy responsibility for detention centre healthcare in April 2012; the transfer of budgetary responsibility is due, “subject to legislation”, by April 2014. (Hansard)
In the first quarter of this year 53 children were reported detained, far fewer than under Labour’s 2000-per-year peak, but higher than might have been inferred from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s December 2010 forecast of“tiny numbers of cases” detained as “an absolutely last resort”.
In March 2012 Dave Wood was promoted to the post of chief operating officer of the UK Border Agency. In April, the Home Office quietly appointed aschairman of the UKBA board a career investment banker, Philip Augar (ex NatWest and Shroeders).
The narrow thread of recent history exposed here resonates beyond the hard lives of asylum-seeker families.
Security companies G4S and Serco have moved far, far beyond their security-industry base, deep into our public sector, securing massive government contracts in policing, health, education, welfare.
Senior civil servant and ministerial loyalty to “our contractors”, as revealed in this case, is a recurring phenomenon that merits further inquiry and real vigilance as Britain undergoes what the Financial Times has called “the biggest wave of outsourcing since the 1980s”.
The pattern of Border Agency behaviour unfolded here suggests a rogue organisation, shielded by the Home Office, beyond accountability to Parliament and the public. Nobody has been held to account for the misleading of ministers, Parliament and the public over years, as a direct result of which thousands of innocent and vulnerable children have been locked up to the detriment of their health and wellbeing. Relations between the Border Agency and its contractors are intimate, enduring and enmeshed. Children remain at risk of harm.
The Home Affairs Select Committee should wake up to its duties, which include scrutinising the Border Agency’s work, call its executives to account for their repeated denial of evidence of children’s suffering, and urge the government to bring about a real and honourable end to child detention.
This document is also available in PDF format.
With huge thanks to Martin Rowson for his specially designed cartoon.
* GSL and G4S
GSL was part of Group 4 Falck, the huge Danish security company that merged with Securicor in July 2004 to create Group 4 Securicor, rebranded in 2006 as G4S.
In June 2004, just ahead of the merger, Group 4 Falck sold GSL to its management in a £207 million deal backed by private equity firms. Then, in December 2007, G4S bought it back again (for £355 million).
G4S chief executive Nick Buckles told the Financial Times in December 2007 that GSL had been sold “to ease the progress of the merger as there would otherwise have been competition issues over prisoner transportation.” GSL, he said, would now “slot neatly into the next stage of G4S’s strategy to focus on long-term government contracts.”
** The UK Border Agency and “Keeping children safe”
Thanks to pressure from the first Children’s Commissioner for England and HM Inspectorate of Prisons, among others repeatedly highlighting multiple deficiencies in the Border Agency’s treatment of vulnerable children over years, mandatory training in child safeguarding for all Border Agency staff in contact with children has been required since 2007.
That was enshrined in the statutory guidance to section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, which gave the Border Agency a duty to promote and safeguard the welfare of children.
The equivalent statutory duty on other public bodies to safeguard children was provided by Section 11 of The Children Act 2004 following the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié, but the UK Border Agency and its predecessors resisted these duties until they were imposed on them under section 55.
Children subject to immigration control, including those held in immigration detention in the UK, were excluded from the full rights and protections of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child until November 2008 when, under great pressure, the UK withdrew most of its reservations to the Convention.
Unpublished documents in the author’s possession:
Carrie, Anne Marie. Chief executive, Barnardo’s. Letter to Dr Frank Arnold (27 September 2011).
Foley, Gillian. Detention Services. UK Border Agency. Letter to Dr Frank Arnold. (8 November 2011).
GSL, Yarl’s Wood, and Bedford Hospital. MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING FOR CHILDREN NEEDING SERVICES AT BEDFORD HOSPITAL NHS TRUST AND YARL’S WOOD REMOVAL CENTRE JANUARY 2005. Review date: JANUARY 2006. Ray Reveley, Centre Manager, Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre; Andrew Reed, Chief Executive, Bedford Hospital NHS Trust
Home Office Border & Immigration Agency. INVITEES: MEETING TO DISCUSS THE HEALTH IMPACTS OF DETENTION ON CHILDREN WILL BE HELD AT YARLSWOOD DETENTION CENTRE ON THURSDAY 27 SEPTEMBER 2007 AT 10.00AM
Home Office Border & Immigration Agency. Letter from Joe Heatley, Professional Adviser to Border & Immigration Agency, Children’s Champion, Social Policy Directorate, 17 August 2007 RE: HEALTH IMPACTS ON CHILDREN OF FAMILY DETENTION IN YARL’S WOOD IMMIGRATION REMOVAL CENTRE
Home Office Border & Immigration Agency. AGENDA HEALTH IMPACTS OF DETENTION ON CHILDREN. THURSDAY 27TH SEPTEMBER 2007
Home Office. Press Office. Response to criticism – these are not to be attributed as direct statements. Nick Logan. (February 2010)
Public domain documents:
Aynsley-Green, Al. An announced visit to Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre 31st October 2005. London: The Office of Children’s Commissioner. (December 2005)
Aynsley-Green, Al. The Arrest And Detention of Children Subject to Immigration Control: A report following the Children’s Commissioner for England’s visit to Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre 16 May 2008 (April 2009)
Aynsley-Green, Al. The Children’s Commissioner for England’s follow up report to: The Arrest And Detention of Children Subject to Immigration Control. Visit to Yarl’s Wood October 2009 (February 2010)
Aynsley-Green, Al. Speedy end to child detention is needed. The promised review must not be an excuse for civil service prevarication – the welfare of children has to come first. guardian.co.uk (23 May 2010)
Bedford Borough Council: Minutes for Children’s Services Policy Review and Development Committee meeting, Feb 23 2010, 6.30PM. (23 February 2010)
Bedfordshire Local Safeguarding Children Board. Independent Review.Executive Summary. Child A and Child B Placed with Family at Immigration Removal Centre (June 2010)http://www.bedfordshirelscb.org.uk/pro_files/executivesummaryforchildaandchildbindependentreviewfinalversion090610unprotected(2).pdf
Bercow et al. Alternatives to immigration detention of families and children. A discussion paper by John Bercow MP, Lord Dubs and Evan Harris MP for the All Party Parliamentary Groups on Children and Refugees (July 2006)
Bolton, Syd. Co-director of the Refugee Children’s Rights Project, Children’s Legal Centre. Launch of End Child Detention Now’s “Keep Your Promise” campaign. Oxford House, Bethnal Green, London, (26 March 2011)
Green, Damian. Immigration minister. Letter to Keith Vaz, MP, chairman, Home Affairs Select Committee, on UK Border Agency and Border Force governance and the appointment of investment banker Philip Augar as chairman of the UKBA board. (6 June 2012)
Burstow, Paul. Written Answer to Question from Simon Kirby MP on transfer of detention estate healthcare to the NHS. (31 January 2012)
Carmichael, Alistair. Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael. “The report published last week by the coalition of the royal medical colleges made it clear that children who are detained in immigration removal centres suffer from mental health problems and consider self-harm and occasionally even suicide.” House of Commons. Oral Answers to Questions. Home Department. (14 December 2009)
Clegg, Nick. Speech. Nick Clegg confirms end to child detention (16 Dec 2010) Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg this morning announced that child detention for immigration purposes is to end.http://www.libdems.org.uk/speeches_detail.aspx?title=Nick_Clegg_confirms_end_to_child_detention_%28full_speech%29&pPK=d73b587e-f837-4b16-b7d5-a14b1bfa8a9b
Coalition Agreement reached by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats (12 May 2010)
Crawley, Heaven. Ending the Detention of Children: Developing an Alternative Approach to Family Returns. Centre for Migration Policy Research (CMPR), Swansea University. (June 2010)
Green, Damian. Immigration minister. Interview. BBC Radio Scotland. 14 June 2012.
Green, Damian. Immigration minister. “We are carrying out the review as fast as humanly possible, so that the detention of children for immigration purposes can end and a practical alternative be put in its place.” Westminster Hall. Alternatives to Child Detention (17 June 2010)
Gil-Robles, E. Report by Elvaro Gil-Robles, Commissioner for Human Rights on his visit to the United Kingdom 4th–12th November 2004, CommDH (2005). Strasbourg: Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights.
Griggs, Tom. G4S recaptures prison operator in £355m deal. Financial Times (19 December 2007)
Hammarberg, Thomas (2008). Memorandum by Thomas Hammarberg, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe Following his visits to the United Kingdom on 5-8 February and 31 March-2 April 2008, CommDH. Strasbourg: Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights. (18 September 2008)
HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP). Report on an announced inspection of Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre 28 February – 4 March 2005 by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP). Inquiry into the quality of healthcare at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre (20-24 February 2006) by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons.
HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP). Report on an announced inspection of Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre (4-8 February 2008) by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
More HMIP reports on Yarl’s Wood here.
Hillier, Meg. Labour Home Office minister. The Lorek report “did not take into account the views of the clinicians who worked with those children and who know them.” House of Commons. Oral Answers to Questions. Home Department. (14 December 2009)
Home Office UK Border Agency. Review into the Ending of the Detention of Children for Immigration Purposes. Terms of Reference. (1 June 2010)
Homer Lin, UKBA chief executive. Response to Medical Justice. “State Sponsored Cruelty”. Children in immigration detention. September 2010, said UKBA took the needs of “vulnerable individuals seeking asylum in the UK, and in particular the need to safeguard and protect the wellbeing of children”, very seriously.
Homer Lin, UKBA chief executive. “seeking to damage the reputation of our contractors”. Foreword to O’Loan (March 2010) p1.
House of Commons Home Affairs Committee. The Detention of Children in the Immigration System. First Report of Session 2009–10 House of Commons (24 November 2009)
Independent Police Complaints Commission. Independent investigation into complaints following “The Boys Who Killed Stephen Lawrence” BBC Panorama 26 July 2006. (2006)
Lorek et al. The mental and physical health difficulties of children held within a British immigration detention centre: A pilot study. Child Abuse and Neglect: 33: 573-585. (2009)
Medical Justice. Outsourcing abuse. The use and misuse of state-sanctioned force during the detention and removal of asylum seekers. A report by Birnberg Peirce & Partners, Medical Justice and the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (July 2008)
Medical Justice. “State Sponsored Cruelty”. Children in immigration detention. Jon Burnett, Judith Carter, Jon Evershed, Maya Bell Kohli, Claire Powell, and Gervase de Wilde. 141 cases are featured in this report involving children detained between 2004 and April 2010. These children spent a mean average of 26 days each in immigration detention. One child had spent 166 days in detention, over numerous separate periods, before her third birthday. 48% of the children in this report were born in the UK. 74 children were psychologically harmed. Symptoms included bed-wetting and loss of bowel control, heightened anxiety, and food refusal. 34 children exhibited signs of developmental regression. Six children expressed suicidal ideation either whilst in detention or after release. Three girls attempted to end their own lives. (September 2010)
O’Loan, Nuala. REPORT TO THE UNITED KINGDOM BORDER AGENCY ON “OUTSOURCING ABUSE” by BARONESS NUALA O’LOAN DBE (March 2010)
Plimmer, Gill. Outsourcing set to boom as contracts surge, Financial Times. (17 June 2012)
The Royal Colleges of Paediatrics and Child Health, General Practitioners and Psychiatrists and the UK Faculty of Public Health. Intercollegiate Briefing Paper: Significant Harm – the effects of immigration detention on the health of children and families in the UK. (10 December 2009)
Sambrook, Clare. How Official Lying Threatens Our Democracy and What Should Be Done About It, Submission to the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications The Future of Investigative Journalism, 21 November 2011.
Committee’s report: The future of investigative journalism (16 February 2012)
Sambrook’s report also published on
OurKingdom@openDemocracy (21 November 2011)
Sambrook, Clare. Controversial doctor and Barnardo’s serve UK’s flawed child detention policy. OurKingdom@openDemocracy (15 June, 2012)
Sambrook, Clare. G4S teaches UK Border Agency how to care for children. OurKingdom@openDemocracy (10 July, 2012)
Serco. Contract News Update. Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre contract extension (11 May 2010)
Stevens, Malcolm. Former lead Children’s Services Inspector with the Government’s Social Services Inspectorate. “a shameful account of institutional incompetence”. Yarl’s Wood immigration centre treated children in a shameful way. It’s clearer than ever that this centre must be closed, says Malcolm Stevens. The Daily Telegraph. (18 June 2010)
Vaz, Keith, “Our visit was somewhat marred by the Home Office officials’ terrible anxiety about the Select Committee visit.” Westminster Hall (17 June 2010)
Wood, Dave, Director of Criminality and Detention. UKBA. “Treating children with care and compassion is a priority. Families at Yarl’s Wood should get the same level of care available on the NHS, and they do.” Move children out of migrant centres say medical experts. Owen Boycott. The Guardian. (10 December 2009)
Wood, Dave, Director of Criminality and Detention. UKBA. “it’s not terribly easy for a family unit to abscond”. Examination of witnesses. Home Affairs Committee, 16 September 2009.
Wood, Dave, Director of Criminality and Detention. UKBA. “the study was undertaken without any reference to the UK Border Agency or its clinicians”. Supplementary memorandum submitted by UK Border Agency. Home Affairs Committee, November 2009.
See also OurKingdom’s collections:
The scandal of child detention in the UK
G4S: securing whose world?
Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told his fellow Liberal Democrats at the party’s conference in Birmingham to “hold your heads up and look our critics squarely in the eye”.
Among the many things that Liberal Democrats can be proud of when squaring up to their critics, Clegg told delegates, was that child detention has “ended”.
Michael Moore, the Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Scotland, was a little more circumspect. Borrowing — perhaps inadvertently — from Star Trek, he declared: “We have ended child detention as we know it.”
In a similar vein, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesman, Tom Brake, writing in the Guardian last month, rejected Natasha Walter’s charge that the government had reneged on its “we will end child detention” coalition pledge (Walter said detention was “making a comeback”), but Brake admitted:
The planned new centre at Pease Pottage does have “a locked environment for … families “…This will only be for up to 72 hours, in the rare cases where a family refuses to leave the country voluntarily, and children will be allowed out of the centre after a risk assessment and with proper supervision.
‘The Cedars’ pre-departure accommodation at Pease Pottage, we are reassured by Barnardo’s chief executive Anne Marie Carrie, “has ambitions to be fundamentally different” from notorious immigration detention centres like Dungavel and Yarl’s Wood. We can be sure of that because the 29 Barnardo’s staff who will be supervising the child detainees have been told they must seek to “safeguard children and treat families and children with compassion”.
Pease Pottage is certainly ‘safe’ and well–guarded, boasting locked accommodation behind a high perimeter fence with security staff on duty 24 hours a day. In order to ensure their safety, children will be ‘compassionately’ searched on arrival according to ‘the Cedars’ operating manual.
Fingers-crossed, the children won’t enquire about the discretely locked cupboards accessible only to security staff that contain ‘suicide prevention kits’, (anti-ligature knifes are recommended by HM Inspector of Prisons). Care staff and security guards will carry swipe cards at all times to enable them to pass between the detainees’ rooms and the controlled areas of the facility. In keeping with a ‘family feel’ environment, security staff will have access to all areas at all times. Visitors, on the other hand, will be restricted to the visitors’ lounge to which detainees will be escorted and returned by G4S guards.
G4S is a global security company with a multi-billion pound turnover, which specialises in managing prisons, detention centres and escorting prisoners and detainees. A recent Chief Inspector of Prisons report found that G4S escorts showed “a shamefully unprofessional and derogatory attitude”, and used unnecessary force and racist language. G4S employees, until recently, included the three men arrested in the case of Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan deportee, who died on a British Airways plane in October last year while being ‘removed’ by G4S. Other passengers described how Mubenga was forcibly restrained as he complained he could not breathe.
G4S also manages the contract for Tinsley House near Gatwick Airport where two years ago a 10-year-old Nigerian girl was found strangling herself with the cord of an electric kettle. The expensively refurbished Tinsley House will continue to detain children in so-called ‘border turn around’ cases or where the parent or guardian is being deported following completion of a prison sentence or because they are considered too dangerous or disruptive to be held in the ‘family friendly’ accommodation at Pease Pottage.
The Liberal Democrat election manifesto pledged to do so much more than ending child detention. Asylum seekers would be permitted to work, “saving taxpayers’ money and allowing them the dignity of earning their living”. And there was the promised amnesty for “people who have been in Britain for 10 years, speak English, have a clean record and want to live here long term to earn their citizenship”.
All these pledges have come to nothing. But luckily Clegg can look us squarely in the eye because “child detention has ended”.
While Moore, Brake and Clegg may be able to spot the difference in the child detention we knew — the one that Clegg labelled “shameful” less than a year ago in his December speech to London Citizens — and the rebadged, rebranded, repackaged ‘pre departure accommodation’ at Pease Pottage, can anyone else?
It’s your truth Nick – but not as the rest of us know it.
I’d firstly like to thank the Shpresa Programme for inviting me to address you all today. My name is Tom Sanderson and I’m here to represent the campaign group End Child Detention Now.
To start with I’d like to tell you a bit about our campaign which began in 2009. Since then we have been working to put pressure on the UK government to stop placing children into immigration detention centres. We do not accept monetary donations from any organisation, although we are very happy to work with others who share our determination to bring an end to the imprisonment of children in the UK.
In this regard we have been very lucky to have been able to collaborate so often with the wonderful people at Shpresa. The insightful and moving video recorded and produced by Manuel has been such a useful campaign tool, and all the young people from the organisation who made the trip up to York to dance, to read poetry and generally made a huge contribution to making our own event during last year’s Refugee Week so engaging and vibrant.
And of course Lulji, Evis, Flutra and the entire Shpresa team have worked so tirelessly to support us in our campaign. Our deepest thanks go out to you all, you really have been invaluable to our cause.
So why are we so passionate about this issue?
Well, there have been many studies and reports which have confirmed the immense mental and often physical damage that children are subjected to when they are held in these detention centres, and there is actually quite a wide consensus that the practice breaches a raft of child rights.
We are by no means the only group that have been campaigning to end this, and there have been many statements denouncing the detention of children from high-profile figures, including doctors, lawyers and even members of parliament. Given the widespread opposition to the practice, it does seem surprising that nearly two years have passed, and in that time great effort has been expended by us and several other groups including Shpresa, and yet we still live in a country where a child can be effectively imprisoned not because of their actions, but simply because of the arbitrary lottery of nationality.
This is not to say there has been no progress. The family section of Yarl’s Wood detention centre has been closed, and the numbers of children detained have been significantly reduced. We have even had a promise from the current coalition government that they would bring an absolute end to what they themselves have referred to as a ‘scandal’ and a ‘moral outrage’.
So why, then, are we still campaigning?
Sadly, this promise has so far been largely empty. It seems especially empty in light of the new pre-departure accommodation facility currently being built not far away near the Sussex village of Pease Pottage. The site is scheduled to begin detaining families from the end of September, and as noted by Professor Heaven Crawley it can potentially accommodate nearly four and a half thousand children each year.
Although the new facility has been described by the UK Border Agency as family friendly, the site will still include a wire security fence over two metres high and CCTV cameras within apartments. Detainees will not be allowed to leave the site unless they make an application to do so and there is no obligation for the security staff to approve these.
In our view, this is still detention regardless of what they call it, and therefore children held there will be damaged in the same way as those that were detained in Yarl’s Wood and other removal centres.
The fact that the UK Border Agency has persuaded the charity Barnado’s to help them run the facilities there appears to have satisfied some groups that child detainees will not be harmed, and seems to have convinced them that the campaign has been won and that they – and we – should be satisfied with the compromise.
But we believe there can be no compromise when innocent children are still being victimised and mentally damaged by our own government. We are not ready to accept that this is the best that can be done, and go quietly back to our day jobs.
It is the detention itself which causes such damage to the children placed in it, and we doubt that it will make any difference to these frightened, confused, but blameless children whether some of the staff wear the uniform of a charity or that of a private security firm like G4S.
This company, are facing possible charges of corporate manslaughter after the death of deportee Jimmy Mubenga while being restrained by their staff during deportation. This company have now been chosen to play the role of ‘bad cop’ at the new detention centre.
In our view, this is still a scandal. It is still a moral outrage. So we will continue to fight against the ‘state-sponsored cruelty’ that persists despite the pledges made by our leaders in Westminster, for as long as it takes to truly bring it to an end, and we know that the Shpresa Programme will stand with us too. Thank you all.
The Pleasance and End Child Detention Now present this year’s Charlie Hartill Award winning play Fit for Purpose by Catherine O’Shea.
Directed by Tanja Pagnuco. 12.45 Pleasance Courtyard, Attic 4-29th August (not 15th).
Inspiration In January 2010 fifty female asylum seekers’ who were being held in the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre went on hunger strike to protest at the conditions they and their families had to endure. This ended 5 weeks later with violence and women being removed to Holloway prison. This new play Fit for Purpose tells the story of Aruna and Kaela a Somali mother and daughter who are detained in Yarl’s Wood at the start of the strike. The extreme stress of their journey and subsequent mistreatment by the UK Border Agency makes Aruna retreat into herself while her thirteen year old daughter tries to understand what is happening.
Research Fit for Purpose is the result of extensive research over the last four years. Catherine O’Shea began researching while on the MA Writing for Performance at Goldsmiths College. She has interviewed asylum lawyers, asylum seekers, UK Border Agency staff and various NGO’s such as Bail for Immigration Detainees. She has accompanied the All Africa Women’s Group to parliament on several occasions and they inspired the women’s group which is central to the support Aruna receives in the play. Aruna’s story was inspired by the book Enslaved; The New British Slavery by Rahila Gupta. Development Fit for Purpose is this year’s Charlie Hartill Award winning play, the production is also supported by the End Child Detention Now campaign. It was developed at RADA with Lloyd Trott and actresses including Tanya Moodie and Chipo Chung. The play has had development readings at Soho Theatre, RADA and the Pleasance.
Production The director and cast have explored the issue of displacement through improvisation, physical exercises, characterisation and the use of real-life stories. They have examined the experience of being an asylum seeker in the UK and how this impacts on the self-confidence, self-respect, mental and physical health and sociability of the two main characters Aruna and Kaela. The ten other characters are shared by 3 actresses. The piece oscillates between strong realistic moments showing the reality of the system and stylised fragments conveying through poetry, physicality the inner-turmoil of these characters. London previews Tuesday 19th and Wednesday 20th July, 7.30pm at the Pleasance Islington.
PRESS ENQUIRIES Mimi Poskitt T 07789070505 E email@example.com LISTINGS
Dates: 4th – 29th August 2011 (not 15th August) Venue: 12.45 Pleasance Courtyard, Attic Tickets: £10 (£8) Weekends £9 (£7) Weekdays Box Office: 0131 556 6550 To book review tickets for this show please contact the Pleasance Press Office 0131 556 6557 firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in openDemocracy, 13 January 2011.
In the High Court on Tuesday, Mr Justice Wyn Williams might have driven the last nail into the coffin of Britain’s infamous and long-running child immigration detention policy. The detaining of children for immigration purposes has been denounced as a ‘scandal’ and a ‘moral outrage’ by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, yet the current Home Secretary has spared no expense in expertly and robustly defending the policy.
The action was brought at the end of last year by Public Interest Lawyers on behalf of a Malaysian family of three and a Nigerian mother and her baby. Liberty and Bail for Immigration Detainees supported the action (Suppiah and Others vs SSHD and Others). In a judgment that noted Nick Clegg’s repeated disavowal of child detention as morally repugnant, the judge found that:
“The Defendant’s current policy relating to detaining families with children is not unlawful. There is, nonetheless, a significant body of evidence which demonstrates that employees of UKBA have failed to apply that policy with the rigour it deserves.”
Specifically, the UK Border Agency were held to have breached the families’ rights to liberty, privacy and family life (their Article 5 and Article 8 rights), though not Article 3, which relates to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The Home Office does not contest that both families were arrested in the early hours of the morning, were given only a short time to pack, transported in locked and caged vans, and that a very young girl was body searched with her arms outstretched to the obvious distress of her mother.
Reetha Suppiah and her two sons, and Sakinat Bello and her baby, were then locked up at the infamous Yarl’s Wood Detention centre. As with many thousands of families to be sent there, soon after being taken into detention the children became sick and suffered from diarrhoea and vomiting. Reetha’s eldest son continues to suffer from a fear of authority and recalls seeing ‘policemen everywhere’ in detention.
In finding that “the detention of children is not something which should ever be lightly countenanced or allowed to continue except in such circumstances which clearly justify it and which do not reasonably permit of alternatives”, Justice Williams gave a clear and resounding rebuke to the policy of previous home secretaries, immigration ministers and their senior civil servants. Read more
This article is reproduced by kind permission of Public Interest Lawyers
Reetha Suppiah and Sakinat Bello and their young families are typical of the hundreds of recent victims of our immigration detention system. Over the course of their time in Britain, they have integrated into our society and formed significant ties to it. After years of fear and violence in their home countries, they were able to live in a comparatively peaceful environment, reporting regularly to the authorities.
Then, one February morning, their homes were raided by teams of UK Border Agency officials. Danahar, Reetha’s eleven year-old son, assumed that he had done something wrong and that he was being taken away by “policemen” in the dawn raid. Sakinat’s two year-old daughter, Ewa, was lifted from her bed whilst still asleep and awoke in the arms of a uniformed stranger. The families were loaded into vans with meshed windows for onward transportation to Yarl’s Wood, a notorious detention centre the Children’s Commissioner has described as “no place for a child”. Its family wing was finally closed last month, but children are still detained at a centre near Gatwick Airport.
Reetha and her boys spent 17 days in detention. Sakinat and Ewa were released after 12 days, despite the fact that nine days earlier Ewa had been declared “unfit to fly” by a doctor. All the children became sick almost immediately upon arrival.
The Court was presented with little evidence of child and family welfare having been taken into account at any stage prior to detaining the families. The detentions were thus unlawful “for their entire duration.” At no time did anyone ask the most basic question: “Is detention necessary?”. On the facts of this case, the answer could only have been “no”.
The lamentable failures ranged from the depressing (such as a failure to complete the crucial Family Welfare Form) to the ludicrous (the assessment that a 2 year-old child ought to be accorded 90 points out of 100 on a “Harm Matrix” upon being checked in to Yarl’s Wood). Those failures had to be viewed alongside the compelling evidence presented by Liberty, the human rights group, which detailed the many similar cases in which children are detained unnecessarily. Detentions lasted an average of 16 days, but periods of 61 days were not uncommon. Given the expert consensus on the inherently harmful effects that detention has upon children, the reckless, tick-box manner in which the Suppiah and Bello families were consigned to these prison-like conditions is indeed, in the words of Nick Clegg, “a moral outrage”.
The judge made clear that the proper interpretation of the Home Secretary’s power to detain children was that it could only be used in “exceptional circumstances” – circumstances that did not prevail here. These families’ basic human rights – to liberty, to security of the person, to private, home and family life – were summarily violated. The Government breached its statutory duties under the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 and its own policy which, on paper, should mean that detention is used only as a last resort. Mr Justice Wyn Williams adjudged that it would be “premature” to hold that the relatively new policy was incapable of being applied lawfully in practice, or that it gave rise to an unacceptable risk of unlawfulness. This was due to the existence of certain key elements. But the application of that policy to Reetha, Emmanuel, Danahar, Sakinat and Ewa was unlawful from start to finish.
The courage shown by these families in the face of the spectre of removal from the UK is remarkable. The dignified way in which they fought for redress should send a clear signal that asylum seekers may be vulnerable but are not helpless. They must be treated with the same level of respect accorded to everyone else.
As the Coalition prevaricates in its attempts to end child detention, it must ensure that the interests of the child lie at bedrock of its alternatives. Jim Duffy, Public Interest Lawyers
‘Much of the delay in concluding asylum and other immigration cases stems from poor quality decision-making when the application is initially considered,’ says Keith Vaz, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee whose latest report on the UK Border Agency’s work is published today.
Two cheers for Vaz and the HASC! It might be three if only they were clearer and more forceful in their criticism of an agency whose deficiencies are systemic and rooted in a culture characterised by denial and deceit.
The automatic disbelief that greets asylum seekers from their first moment of arrival, coupled with a shocking disregard for human rights, compounded by the lack of legal services that might check official incompetence have created a Kafkaesque nightmare for vulnerable people who come to these shores seeking sanctuary.
‘More consistent and rigorous scrutiny of applications would lead to fewer delays, fewer appeals, less uncertainty for the applicant, less pressure on the officials themselves, and probably lower costs for the UK taxpayer,’ says Vaz, noting mildly that this ‘is also likely to require more consistent and considered direction from those setting policy for the Agency than has sometimes been the case’.
The MPs ‘lack confidence’ in the Border Agency’s effectiveness in ‘making sure that its contractors provide adequate training and supervision of their employees in respect of the use of force,’ and add: ‘This is a fundamental responsibility of the Agency and is not simply a matter of clauses in contracts or formal procedural requirements.’
But Vaz and his colleagues must be aware that the failings go far deeper than that. Last March, when Dame Nuala O’Loan, investigating allegations that contractors’ staff had roughed up asylum seekers, found ‘inadequate management of the use of force by the private sector companies’ and made 22 recommendations for change, UKBA chief executive Lin Homer did something quite extraordinary. She attacked the doctors and lawyers who had brought the abuses to light, for ‘seeking to damage the reputation of our contractors’.
Homer, who has just left the Border Agency for the Department of Transport, does not escape today’s report unscathed. The MPs note her failure over months to complete an audit of the way UKBA implements (or rather fails to implement) the rule requiring that torture survivors, children and people with serious medical and psychiatric conditions should be detained only ‘under very exceptional circumstances’.
They remark that Homer has left unresolved their running complaint about the quality and the level of UKBA’s response to MPs’ letters on constituents’ behalf. They note that her £208,000-a-year salary exceeded that of the Prime Minister and the Permanent Secretary of the Home Office and say her successor should receive significantly less.
But today’s report does not touch upon the coincidence of Homer’s tenure with five years of Home Office misrepresentation and denial of the medical evidence that detention harms children, nor does it challenge or even probe the increasingly cosy relations between civil servants and the commercial contractors who run the detention estate.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s data on mandarins who lunch, Homer enjoyed two dinners with Serco in 2007, and tucked away a ‘contract review dinner’ in 2008, courtesy of Raytheon, master of the e-borders programme and leader of the big security companies’ club, the Trusted Borders Cabal, oops! — Consortium.
Homer lunched with former Home Secretary John Reid in September 2009 when he was a backbencher doubling up as a £50,000-a-year consultant to G4S, the company that runs UKBA’s Tinsley House immigration removal centre — where the very next month a distressed 10-year-old detainee tried to strangle herself. (Tinsley House is where the government plans to hold children now that it has purportedly ‘ended’ child detention.)
Last April, on the cusp of a general election that might have made a government uneasy with the idea of locking up innocent children for no good reason, the Border Agency nonetheless extended Serco’s £900,000-a-month contract to run Yarl’s Wood detention centre until April 2013. The extension is worth £32 million. Yarl’s Wood closed its doors to families in December.
For years UKBA has got away with abusing its power against some of the most vulnerable people imaginable. More boldness and greater clarity from the Home Affairs Select Committee is urgently required if the UK Border Agency is to feel pressure to change.
The New Statesman reports on a BBC investigation that government pilots involving 113 families in London and the North-West had given families with children just two weeks to voluntarily leave the country. Two families who refused to comply were taken into detention and deported shortly after and two families accepted voluntary re-settlement packages. Significantly only 3 of the 113 families involved in the pilot ceased contact with the authorities or disappeared – emphasising the extremely low probability of such families absconding.
As Samira Shackle writes, the real problem is that as a consequence of cuts to legal aid and the closure of specialist providers of legal support to refugees and asylum seekers, ‘the vast majority of people seeking asylum are not given anything resembling a fair hearing’. That appears to be of no concern to the Home Office as it prepares new tough compliance controls involving separately detaining one or other parent in order to force the family onto a flight, electronic tagging, and ‘non-detained’ accommodation new Heathrow Airport from which one assumes it will be difficult to escape.
What the BBC report fails to point out, however, is that following the coalition government’s announcement that ‘the moral outrage’ of child detention was to end, 37 children have been held in immigration detention between 1st June and 4th October according to the UKBA’s own figures.
It would appear that only the Deputy Prime Minister finds the continued incarceration of children by his Home Office colleagues disturbing. With the talk of ‘ending child detention’ shifting to Damian Green’s increasing reference to ‘minimizing detention’ – a practice the Home Secretary staunchly defended in the High Court only a week ago – it is not surprising to hear Dame Pauline Neville-Jones say that ‘I trust that we will not be in a situation in which children are detained for any length of period at all; but certainly if they were, education would be a very important factor’. In other words, we may well need to keep open Yarl’s Wood.
So much for the Deputy Prime Minister’s promise to end child detention for good. The UKBA are trying to soften up the Clegg/Huhn wing of the government for a predictable ‘there is no alternative to detention’ conclusion to yet another flawed pilot. This ill-thought out scheme has everything to do with ramping up the removal figures and nothing to do with allowing parents and children a fair hearing from a genuinely impartial justice system. It is good to hear the Children’s Society voicing its opposition to this despicable attack on vulnerable children and their families. We now need to see all the charities and NGOs who were persuaded to join the government’s flawed and cynical review to follow suit and publicly distance themselves from its punitive and dangerous consequences.
The Today report can be heard on BBC iplayer [about 50 minutes in].
On Tuesday 26 October, a judicial review challenge to the Government’s family detention policy reaches the High Court in London. The Claimants – two single mothers and their young children – are seeking an order declaring the Government’s family detention policy unlawful. In May 2010, the Coalition Government announced that it would end the detention of children for immigration purposes, a practice that the Deputy Prime Minister described as “a moral outrage”.
Five months on, children continue to be held at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre for indeterminate periods in prison-like conditions, the Government’s plans having stalled and been watered down. Last February, Reetha Suppiah, Sakinat Bello and their children were arrested by UK Border Agency officers in dawn raids. They and their children were loaded into vans with caged windows and driven to Yarl’s Wood in a state of confusion and distress. Reetha and her two boys (aged 1 and 11) were detained for 17 days, whilst Sakinat and her two year-old daughter were held for 12 days before being released back into the community. Both families had been reporting regularly to the immigration authorities prior to their arrest. Upon arrival at Yarl’s Wood, all of the children became sick, suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting.
It appears that the welfare needs of the families were not properly taken into account or even assessed prior to the decision to detain, and the detention experience has had a profound effect upon them. Reetha’s eldest child was particularly badly affected and recalls seeing “policemen everywhere” in Yarl’s Wood. Since his release, he has lived in continuous fear of re-arrest. The families claim that their detention was unlawful and that it subjected them to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. They also allege breaches of the children’s rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Jim Duffy of Public Interest Lawyers said today: “Our clients’ experiences and the broad expert consensus point to a practice that is inhumane, destructive and unnecessary. Child detention has to end now.” The claim will be heard over three days from 26th until 28th October.
For further information please contact Public Interest Lawyers on 07912 691 727.
Today the charity Medical Justice launches the most comprehensive report on the harm done to children held in immigration detention. The 84 page ‘State Sponsored Cruelty‘ report is based on the findings of 141 cases involving children detained between 2004 and April 2010.
“We welcome the report from Medical Justice as it highlights again the harmful effect that administrative detention has on the physical and psychological health of children and young people. The coalition government’s promise to end the detention of children for administrative purposes is well received. However, together with Medical Justice, we call on the government to make this pledge a reality, and in particular to do so in a way that does not separate families and that puts the welfare of children first. We encourage the UKBA to embrace their new statutory duty to safeguard children, and ensure that cases are properly reviewed.”
Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
Royal College of Psychiatrists
Royal College of General Practitioners
• Children spent a mean average of 26 days each in immigration detention. One child had spent 166 days in detention, over numerous separate periods, before her third birthday. 48% of the children in this report were born in the UK. The report found that:
• 74 children were psychologically harmed. Symptoms included bed wetting and loss of bowel control, heightened anxiety, and food refusal. 34 children exhibited signs of developmental regression, and six children expressed suicidal ideation either whilst in or after they were detained. Three girls attempted to end their own lives.
• 23 children would not eat food for a period of time. UKBA have admitted that some detainees were being offered food beyond its ‘best before’ date. Some children lost significant amounts of weight.
• 48 children were reported to have witnessed violence, mostly during attempts to remove them from the UK, and 13 were physically harmed as a result of violence in detention.
• 92 children had physical health problems which were exacerbated, or caused by immigration detention, including fever, vomiting, abdominal pains, diarrhoea, musculoskeletal pain, and coughing up blood. 50 of these children were reported to have received inadequate healthcare in detention including failures to recognise medical needs, failures to make appropriate referrals, and delays in treating. Some children were left in severe pain.
• Despite official guidelines that children should be given appropriate protection from infectious diseases such as malaria, malaria, tuberculosis, and yellow fever, there were concerns in 50 cases about failures in this respect. Some children were alleged to have been administered inappropriate and dangerous malarial prophylaxis in attempts to ensure their removal from the country.
• 73 adults were reported to have been suffering to such an extent that it was affecting their ability to care for their children. Many of these parents were assessed by independent doctors who verified injuries consistent with claims of torture. Numerous parents expressed suicidal ideation and were self-harming.
• 38 children were separated from their families, sometimes after parents were put in isolation having voiced concerns about the way their children were being treated. Some children were removed from their parents and taken into care whilst their parents were detained. Some parents were separated from their children for weeks.
Letter to The Guardian about State Sponsored Cruelty
The Refugee Children’s Consortium is a group of 30 NGOs working to ensure the rights and needs of refugee children are promoted and respected in accordance with domestic and international standards. We have long campaigned for an end to the detention of children for immigration purposes and we welcome Medical Justice’s report, State Sponsored Cruelty, launched today, which exposes the physical and psychological damage caused by detaining children.
In May 2010 the government pledged to end the incarceration of children for immigration purposes. Two months later Nick Clegg announced that the facilities for families at Yarl’s Wood would be closed, describing this harmful practice as a moral outrage. It is now September, Yarl’s Wood remains open and children continue to be detained. The UK Border Agency received 342 submissions during its review into the ending of child detention, yet, thus far, there has been no positive change in policy or legislation. Instead, new policies, described as pilot schemes, have now been put in place, such as one to remove families without sufficient notice – which, rather than limiting harm, could damage children even further. It is unacceptable to continue to detain children while alternatives are explored. Given the shocking medical and legal evidence from State Sponsored Cruelty, we urge the government to make good its commitment to end the detention of children for immigration purposes, and to ensure that the welfare of children is protected at all times.
Chief executive, Refugee Children’s Consortium
A public meeting launching the report will be held in the House of Commons on Thursday 9 September in Committee Room 10 from 4pm-6pm with Julian Huppert MP (Lib Dem) Jeremy Corbyn MP (Labour) and Peter Bottomley MP (Conservative). Speakers include:
* Mr. S – detained with his partner and children at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre
* Dr Sarah Wynick – child and adolescent psychiatrist
* Dr Nick Lessof – Consultant Paediatrician, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
* Jon Burnett – Medical Justice, author of ‘State sponsored cruelty’
* UK Borders Agency representative (invited)