Month: February 2010
Key findings from: The Children’s Commissioner for England’s follow up report to: The arrest and detention of children subject to immigration control.
Introduction & Executive Summary
- Sir Al Aynsley-Green reaffirms that in the UK ‘each year some 2,000 children are detained for administrative purposes for immigration control’.
- “…my contention remains that detention is harmful to children and therefore never likely to be in their best interests. There is a growing body of evidence, not least from the medical Royal Colleges, that documents that detention has a profound and negative impact on children and young people.”
- “we continue to argue that the detention of children for immigration control should cease”.
- “the UK Government must be held to account over its knowledge of what happens to families who are returned as a consequence of its immigration removals policy”.
- Safeguarding children systems require urgent systemic review. This should be considered high risk.
- A Welfare Assessment using the Common Assessment Framework (CAF) must be undertaken prior to any decision to detain being made.
- A four-year-old boy was noted to appear withdrawn and traumatised on arrival. His mother’s overdose, and the removal of his father to another detention centre was not mentioned as a cause for his subsequent regressive behaviour.
- A child aged three had a fracture of the left humerus (upper arm) after a fall. She woke crying at night, unable to lift her left arm. She was seen by a nurse that night but not seen by a doctor until 14:00 the next day. It was not until 19:00, more than 24 hours after the incident that she left for the A&E department of Bedford Hospital.
- The enquiry team found examples in the Welfare Assessment Reports produced by Bedford Social Services instances where children’s needs were not properly addressed or where there was evidence that continued detention was detrimental to their welfare.
- These WAR reports are submitted to the Minister of State used and used as the basis for authorising further periods of detention beyond 28 days despite the fact that neither the children, their parents nor their advocates are allowed to see or challenge them.
- Welfare Assessment Reports use formulaic language such as ‘detention to be kept to the minimum’, which has no bearing on case manager’s decision to persist with detention.
- WAR authors engage in inappropriate attempts to persuade parents that they should voluntarily return to the country to which the UKBA is seeking to remove them and try to convince parents that they are responsible for their children’s detention and its negative impact.
Contrary to UKBA claims, standards of health care at Yarl’s Wood are not comparable to the NHS. Specifically:
- There is inadequate access to mental services, and a lack of monitoring of children’s mental state on arrival and at regular intervals while in detention.
- Chemoprophylaxis of children who are to be returned to malarial zones is very often not administered to children over 5, and insufficiently for younger children.
- Despite undertakings, malarial nets are still not issued to families returning to endemic malarial zones in Africa.
- There is evidence of inappropriate and harmful prescribing, which was not picked up through medical oversight systems at Yarl’s Wood.
- Women with HIV have been detained only to be released on the instructions of the European Court. The Commissioner recommends that children whose parent/s is/are HIV positive should never be detained.
- There needs to be a systematic way of feeding back children’s comments on the arrest process to enforcement teams.
- UKBA appear to be no longer using caged vans. There appears to be more use of separate vehicles to transport children and their parents to and from Yarl’s Wood.
- Only 3/14 children said that they knew what had happened to their property after arrest, many were similarly unaware of the fare of their pets.
- Children reported how the arrest process was deeply embarrassing and made them feel like criminals – particularly when they were physically escorted from their homes in the sight of neighbours.
- “They told us we were going to a hotel not a prison and then they locked us up.” (Girl aged 6).
- A number of parents reported to us that force was used during arrest operations, particularly when children are being escorted to the awaiting vehicle.
Decision to detain or to continue detention
- Local enforcement officers are supposed to ensure that ‘all barriers to removal’ are cleared prior to booking detention space at Yarl’s Wood, but 11 million found no evidence that this system is audited, checks were not properly made on case files thus increasing the risk of prolonged detention.
- “[T]he records we saw indicated that detention sometimes continued for up to 70 days before release was authorised”.
- Eight percent of parents interviewed had no memory of being provided with information about assisted voluntary return.
- The requirement for ministerial authorisation to prolong detention of a child beyond 28 days has been described by UKBA as a ‘safeguard’. The fact that such authorization has never been refused raises questions about the way in which the process is applied and therefore of its safeguarding value.
- Where removal had not been effected within 48 hours, a judge should review whether continued detention is lawful and appropriate.
- Very few cases in the 11 Million sample resulted in a period of detention of under 1 month and typically most lasted between one month and two months.
- The majority (12/21) of cases were returned to the community.
- There should be an independent review of why some children remain detained for long periods.
Appropriateness of removal
The length of time a child has lived in the UK should inform the decision on whether or not to enforce removal. This accords with the ‘best interests’ principle enshrined in children’s legislation and the UNCRC. The current threshold of seven years of residence for a child before settlement is considered needs formally reviewing.
In an adjournment debate called by the Conservative MP for Bedfordshire North-East, Alastair Burt, the Home Office Minister, Meg Hillier, told the House of Commons that in the financial year 2008-09, 1,116 children entered detention. She went on to report that ‘some 539 of those children, slightly fewer than half, were removed, and 629 were released’-no fewer than 53.8% of all the children who had been detained.
Although the government issued its customary health warning that these figures are based on ‘management information’ and therefore not subject to the detailed checks that apply to the publication of national statistics, this nevertheless confirms the fact that the detention of families is not being used when the independent courts have determined that the parents or children have no lawful right to remain, but as an arbitrary instrument of policy in order to drive up removal figures.
Despite reassurances to Parliament that the detention of children and families would be used for ‘the shortest time possible’, as Diane Abbott MP pointed out the average length of detention has continued to grow. According to the Minister, the average length of detention for children was 16 days in 2008-09, which is double the figure for 2007. The snapshot figure for 30 September 2009, found that 25 children had been detained for seven days or fewer, five for eight to 14 days, five for 15 to 28 days and ten for 29 or more days but less than two months. No figures were provided on the proportion of children who may have been subject to re-detention in the previous 12 months.
Ms Hillier, conceded that a child going through this process [of being woken in the early hours of the morning by complete strangers in uniforms and forcibly driven in a locked van to an immigration removal centre] ‘will find it very challenging’. Alastair Burt asked if the Minister was ‘somewhat painting a picture that parents are making a deliberate choice to go into detention and have their children with them as if the alternative were an easy one’.
I would like her to recognise that for many parents, that choice is not easy at all. That is the dilemma in which they are caught and which the system has somehow to try to deal with – Alastair Burt, MP
The debate had been called by the Conservative Deputy Chief Whip, whose constituency includes Yarl’s Wood following a protest of women hunger strikers on Monday 8 February, during which 70 women were locked inside a hallway in the women’s wing of the removal centre without access to toilet facilities for several hours. One woman suffered a serious asthma attack, and the four alleged organisers of the protest have been sent to HMP Holloway. None of the women who were removed from Yarl’s Wood have been charged with any offences. Up to 5o women remain on hunger strike after more than 10 days.
The Minister was unmoved by the protests or the plight of families facing imminent deportation: ‘…many people will choose anything rather than willingly return to a situation. That can be for all sorts of reasons, and not just because they feel in physical danger. In the end, the parents make the choices that face them, however difficult they are, so some responsibility needs to lie there’.
In other words, it is the fault of the parents that their children are locked up, not the government or its agents who arrest and imprison them. However, the UKBA’s persistent claims that it always acts humanely and within the law are coming unstuck as a growing number of decisions by the independent courts are finding the Home Office guilty of wrongfully imprisoning asylum seeking families. Meanwhile hundreds of children continue to have their lives blighted by our country’s ‘firm but fair asylum and immigration system’.
As Bishop of Ripon and Leeds I am aware of the impact of removal and detention on those who experience it as well as those left behind, in our schools, communities and congregations. I welcome the initiative of the End Child Detention Now Campaign.
The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, representing the Urban Bishop’s Panel of the Church of England, has issued a statement in support of the End Child Detention Now campaign.
The Statement, issued to coincide with the churches’ celebration of The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, February 2nd, condemns the detention of the children of asylum seekers as ” a shameful practice” which must be halted. It calls on the Secretary of State to introduce “humane-community based arrangements for children and families which recognise the need to put the welfare of children first”.
Bishop Packer, who has spoken on the issue in the House of Lords, and worked with families of asylum seekers in Leeds, says in the statement that detention of children, “often in sudden and alarming circumstances leaving behind friends, toys and personal possessions …”, is a distressing experience which must be halted.
Read the bishop’s full statement on child detention.
You can read and sign the End Child Detention Now petition to the Prime Minister here.
The Guardian newspaper in its online edition, carries a report by Diane Taylor and Hugh Muir highlighting the shocking allegations of a former caseworker, at the UKBA office in Cardiff. The former UKBA employee, Louise Perrett, claimed that asylum seekers were mistreated, tricked and humiliated by staff working for the UK Border Agency. Ms Perrett reveals how
- staff kept a stuffed gorilla, a “grant monkey”, which was placed as a badge of shame on the desk of any officer who approved an asylum application
- boys from African countries who said they had been forcibly conscripted as child soldiers were made to lie down on the floor and demonstrate how they shot at people in the bush
- one method used to determine the authenticity of an asylum seeker claiming to be from North Korea was to ask whether the person ate chop suey
- interviews were conducted without lawyers, independent witnesses or tape recorders
One manager said of the asylum-seeker clients: “If it was up to me I’d take them all outside and shoot them.”
Another told her this was to be expected, adding: “No one in this office is very PC. In fact everyone is the exact opposite.”
Home Affairs Select Committee Chair, Keith Vaz said: “I am deeply concerned by a number of ex-UKBA workers who have spoken out about flaws in the points-based system and behaviour such as this. I will be writing to the chief executive, Lin Homer, to discover what steps are being taken to remedy this culture of disbelief and discrimination.”