Month: December 2009
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”.
Jeremy Corbyn MP for Islington North (second from right) joined with ECDN coordinator Esme Madill and Lulji Nuzi, Director of the Shpresa Programme and a group of young former refugees from Kosovo in presenting 200 hand prints made by refugee children all across North London together with many signatures collected by supporters of the campaign from across the UK to the Prime Minister at No 10 Downing Street on Thursday.
Mr Corbyn greeted the end child detention petitioners by declaring: ‘What you are doing here is really important’.
They were accompanied by Paddington Bear who travelled from Darkest Peru more than 50 years ago. Paddington carried a message from his creator Michael Bond which read:
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!’ Paddington Bear.
The full report from Community Care can be found here.
Provision at Tinsley House Immigration Removal Centre, run by G4S, had deteriorated since the last inspection and arrangements for children and single women were wholly unacceptable, said Dame Anne Owers, Chief Inspector of Prisons, publishing the report of an unannounced short follow-up inspection of the centre at Gatwick airport.
Since the last inspection, Tinsley House had effectively become a satellite of the new immigration removal centre at Brook House. Managers appeared to have focused on the teething problems of the new centre. Provision at Tinsley House had suffered and rules had become more restrictive, with staff and detainees noting a more prison-like culture.
In relation to the women and children, inspectors found:
· The small number of single women felt intimidated and rarely left their rooms
· An incident where apparently unnecessary force had been used on children while removing a family
· No progress in childcare or child protection arrangements; parents were worried about their children’s safety in a largely adult male environment
· Childcare and education had deteriorated, and children had limited access to fresh air
In relation to the centre as a whole, they also noted:
· Unprofessional conduct by some overseas escort contractors
· Poor quality reception procedures
· Some improvement in suicide prevention procedures
· Work on diversity was under-developed
· Access to paid work was linked to compliance with immigration, compromising legitimate appeals and breeding discontent
· Activities and library provision had shrunk
· There was limited provision for release, though good access to phones and the internet.
Anne Owers said:
Overall, this is a deeply depressing report. Provision across a number of areas at Tinsley House had deteriorated since our last visit. In particular, the arrangements for children and single women were now wholly unacceptable and required urgent action by G4S and UKBA. It is also disappointing that the opening of the neighbouring Brook House had not led to a more thoughtful and rational approach to the use of Tinsley House. Instead, Tinsley House has become almost an afterthought, housing some poorly cared for children and a small number of scared and isolated single women. This is more than a missed opportunity – it is a wholly unacceptable state of affairs.
ECDN and Beverley Naidoo respond to unfair attack on campaign to end child detention in letters to Independent
Responding to an article by Mary Dejevesky in Tuesday’s (15 December) Independent which accused end child detention campaigners and supporters – such as the more than 60 children’s authors and illustrators who signed an open letter to Gordon Brown – of being cynical and financially motivated in using Paddington Bear and the Christmas season to highlight the plight of children kept in detention centres; Simon Parker for End Child Detention Now rejected all of Dejevsky’s accusations in a letter published in today’s Independent (Thursday 17 December). He pointed out that all of the people involved in the campaign do so completely voluntarily and that we have no interest in ‘infiltrating anyone’s wallets’. We make no apology for focussing on children because they are the most vulnerable victims of our country’s insane policy of imprisoning families whose asylum claims have ‘failed’.
On the same page, the author Beverley Naidoo who recently visited Yarl’s Wood with the illustrator Karin Littlewood, asks Dejevsky if she would prefer children’s authors to ‘sit at “the little people’s table” and keep their mouths shut’?
Beverley’s moving and absorbing account of her story telling workshop with the children of Yarl’s Wood was published in Guardian Society on Wednesday with a link to the ECDN No10 petition, which has since seen a surge of new signatures taking the petition to over 3,000 supporters.
Thanks to Natasha Walter at Women for Refugee Women for arranging Beverley and Karin’s visit to Yarl’s Wood.
The letters are reproduced below:
Open letter to Gordon Brown
Nick Clegg 15/12/09
I am writing to urge you to stop the scandal of hundreds of very young children, including toddlers, spending this Christmas locked up behind bars in Immigration Centres in Britain.
One of the best ways to judge the moral compass of a nation is how we treat children – all children.
There is now concrete evidence that the very young children who find themselves locked up even though they’ve done nothing wrong are suffering weight loss, post traumatic stress disorder and long lasting mental distress.
How on earth can your Government justify what is in effect state sponsored cruelty?
Of course we must keep track of adults who are seeking asylum in this country, and deport them where justified. But this can be done through other means.
It is simply indefensible to do so at the cost of the mental and physical wellbeing of very young children.
I would also ask you to lift the paranoid Government secrecy which surrounds the work of the Immigration Centres. Your Government has consistently refused to provide total figures of the number of children detained.
This attempt to cover up such a morally reprehensible practice only makes matters worse.
The British people want us to take a world lead in the way we treat toddlers and children, not to inflict systematic cruelty on them behind a veil of Government secrecy.
I look forward to your urgent reply.
Read the full Daily Mail story by Jason Groves here
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.
Jacqueline Wilson, Quentin Blake, Michael Rosen, Benjamin Zephaniah, Julia Donaldson and sixty other leading children’s authors and illustrators have written to Gordon Brown urging him to stop detaining children.
In a letter that appears in today’s OBSERVER, the writers and illustrators condemn the detention policy and strongly support children’s commissioner Sir Al Aynsley Green, the Royal Colleges of Paediatrics & Child Health, General Practitioners and Psychiatrists, and the Faculty of Public Health in their calls for its immediate cessation.
END CHILD DETENTION NOW warmly thanks all the writers and illustrators who signed the letter. Our special thanks are due to Beverley Naidoo who kindly lent her wisdom and labour to this project.
Dear Mr Brown,
As writers and illustrators of books for children, we urge you to stop detaining children whose families have sought asylum in the UK.
We strongly support those doctors represented by the Royal Colleges of Paediatrics & Child Health, General Practitioners and Psychiatrists, the Faculty of Public Health and the Children’s Commissioner Sir Al Aynsley-Green, in the concerns they have expressed about the trauma being experienced by children whose families have sought asylum in the UK.
These children have already had their worlds torn apart and witnessed their parents in turmoil and in stress. No wonder that paediatricians and psychologists report that child detainees are confused, fearful, unable to sleep, suffer headaches, tummy pains and weight loss and exhibit severe emotional and behavioural problems (Child Abuse and Neglect 2009; 33: 573 – http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/resources/documents/Campaigns/19432.html.) <http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/resources/documents/Campaigns/19432.html.)> .
The UK Border Agency asserts that ‘Treating children with care and compassion is a priority’, but it continues with the policy of child detention which has been shown to harm children. The Government must end child detention, now.
Carol Ann Duffy
There was widespread reporting of the Royal Colleges of Medicine statement against child immigration detention in the media with live interviews on BBC television and radio and extensive reports in The Guardian news pages and comment is free, The Independent and The Times.
The Royal Colleges of Paediatrics and Child Health, General Practitioners and Psychiatrists and the UK Faculty of Public Health have published a new policy statement and recommendations on the harms to the physical and mental health of children and young people in the UK who are subjected to administrative immigration detention.
The three Royal Colleges and the UK Faculty of Public Health believe that the administrative immigration detention of children, young people and their families is harmful and unacceptable and call on the Government to see this issue as a matter of priority and stop detaining children without delay.
Every year the UK detains 1,000 children in Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs). These children are members of families identified for enforced removal from Britain, who are detained indefinitely under administrative order without time limit and without judicial oversight. The average length of stay of children in Yarl’s Wood, the UK’s main IRC, is 15 days – but almost a third of children are detained for longer than a month.
Children seeking asylum in the UK are among the most vulnerable in our community with high rates of significant physical and psychological harm reflecting their experience before coming to the UK, dislocation of their families and the challenges of poverty and integration on arrival. These are compounded by the harmful effects of arrest and detention.
Other countries have developed viable alternatives to children being held in administrative immigration detention. Now the three Royal Colleges and the UK Faculty of Public Health call for the UK to follow suit as soon as possible.
Meanwhile the joint statement recommends the following immediate actions to minimise the number of children and young people detained and reduce as far as possible the physical and psychological harm caused by detention:
Children and young people in immigration detention should be recognised as Children in Need and given the same safeguards such as Initial Assessment completed within 7 days.
The commissioning of healthcare in the detention estate should be transferred from the Home Office to the National Health Service. Primary and secondary medical care for children and their families should be provided on the same in-reach basis as in the prison service. Such services need to be properly commissioned and resourced.
Delivery of care should be provided by healthcare professionals who are competent to respond to the physical and mental health needs of this client group.
Any medical care offered to children and young people in immigration detention should be consistent with what would normally be considered as good practice in other primary care settings including National Health Service general practice.
Mental health services for children and young people in immigration detention should be provided based on their current mental health need and not on their immigration status.
Dr Rosalyn Proops, Officer for Child Protection, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health:
“We are very concerned about the health and welfare of children in immigration detention. These children are among the most vulnerable in our communities and detention causes unnecessary harm to their physical and mental health. The current situation is unacceptable and we urge the Government to develop alternatives to detention without delay.”
Professor Steve Field, Chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners:
“Children in immigrant families are already disadvantaged and at their most vulnerable. Detaining children for any length of time – often without proper explanation – is a terrifying experience that can have lifelong consequences. As well as the potential psychological impact, these children invariably experience poor physical health as they cannot access immunisation and preventative services. As a civilised society, we cannot sit back and allow these practices to continue – they are unethical and unacceptable. GPs work at the heart of their local communities and are well placed to work with families, agencies and the Government to come up with alternatives that will improve the health and life chances of these children and young people. “
Dr Philip Collins, forensic adolescent psychiatrist representing the Royal College of Psychiatrists:
“The harsh reality about this country’s immigration policy is that we are significantly damaging the mental health of many of the children and young people who end up – through no fault of their own – being detained in a prison-like environment by the UK Border Agency. The evidence is clear: this policy directly harms the mental health of children and young people. That is why the Royal College of Psychiatrists calls on the UK Government to end this practice without delay.”
Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, President of UK Faculty of Public Health:
“This issue goes straight to the very heart of social justice and human rights. We believe it is unfair and wrong to exclude these very vulnerable children and young people from equitable access to normal health and social care. The UK is a civilised nation. Let’s demonstrate that by ending this discrimination right now.”
Re-posted from Ekklesia 4 December 2009
The police were called on the patron saint of children and the imprisoned today, as he tried to deliver Christmas gifts to children at a detention centre. The inspiration for the modern day Father Christmas, St Nicholas of Myra, was turned away at the gate of the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire when he tried to deliver presents to the children locked up inside for administrative purposes.
Jolly Old St Nick brought with him £300 worth of gifts donated by several London churches for the estimated 35 children currently detained. Dressed in a red robe, long white beard, and a bishop’s mitre and crook, and accompanied by the Rev Professor Nicholas Sagovsky, Canon Theologian at Westminster Abbey, they hoped to spread some St Nicholastide cheer among the children of migrants detained there. The atmosphere became rather less jolly when the Home Office authorities who run Yarl’s Wood refused permission for St Nicholas to enter the Centre to distribute the gifts to the children. Despite the authorities having agreed to accept the gifts, St Nicholas was met at the gates by a group of unidentified security guards who barred his entry and ordered him to leave the area. They later called the police as St Nicholas blessed the gifts.