Month: March 2010

HACKNEY CITIZEN: Diane Abbott is right to call for Yarl’s Wood closure, say campaigners. Signatures sought for petitions to End Child Detention Now

The Hackney Citizen
Tuesday 30 March 2010

As former Hackney residents and [current] coordinators of the End Child Detention Now campaign, we wholeheartedly agree with Diane Abbott that Yarl’s Wood detention centre should be closed before further damage is caused to children and to the UK’s reputation (Hackney MPs clash over child detention at Yarl’s Wood, Wednesday 24 March).

Locking up innocent children in conditions known to harm their mental health can never be justified, yet Meg Hillier [MP] continues to argue that children should be taken from their homes and imprisoned in order to fulfil Home Office removal targets.

Hillier’s latest unfounded and scaremongering claim is that if the Home Office stopped detaining children, child trafficking would increase, because asylum seekers would buy children in order to escape detention!

We urge your readers to join Diane Abbott in calling for an immediate end to child detention by supporting our [No Child Detention] petition.

If you are a doctor or medic you can help by signing the Medical Justice petition.

Esmé Madill and Dr Simon Parker
End Child Detention Now

Can Labour ‘out-nasty’ the Tories on asylum?

Phil Woolas’s defence of the inhumane Yarl’s Wood removal centre reflects Labour’s shift to the right on asylum

A discredited policy ... Yarl's Wood immigration removal centre. Photograph: Sean Dempsey/PA

Simon Parker, The Guardian, Comment is Free, Thursday 25 March 2010, 15.00 GMT.

Phil Woolas’s response to a further damning report on Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre by the chief inspector of prisons shows that the government has to resort to scare tactics and lies to defend a policy that has been condemned by several royal colleges of medicine, the Faculty of Public Health, the former children’s commissioner for England, many leading Christian and Jewish faith leaders, all the major children’s charities, and 121 MPs — including 49 members of Woolas’s own parliamentary party.

It is simply untrue to assert, as the immigration minister does, that the only alternative to imprisoning children in high-security detention facilities such as Yarl’s Wood is separating them from their parents and putting them into local authority care. Australia and Sweden maintain families in the community even when their claims for asylum have been declared unfounded, and both countries have managed to achieve higher voluntary return rates than the UK’s as a consequence.

What is more worrying, however, is that Woolas appears to be backtracking on his own government’s commitment to seeking alternatives to immigration detention, such as the current community-based pilot scheme in Glasgow that is being run in conjunction with the local authority and the Scottish government.

In the runup to the general election it is increasingly clear that New Labour want to “out-nasty” the Tories when it comes to denigrating asylum seekers and refugees. Woolas described those detained in Yarl’s Wood as “illegal immigrants” even though he knows full well that the vast majority made perfectly proper and legal asylum claims. The fact that over half of the families in Yarl’s Wood are later released, as Dame Anne Owers points out in her report, completely undermines the minister’s claim that their removal has been properly decided by the independent courts. In fact hundreds of families who pass through Dungavel and Yarl’s Wood are subsequently granted indefinite leave to remain or refugee status because on closer inspection their claims turn out not to be “illegal” or “bogus” but well-founded.

An increasing number of families are being held in Yarl’s Wood under the “detained fast track” system – ie while their cases are still being determined by Home Office officials – a practice that has been condemned by the European commissioner for human rights and the European courts, but that the Leader of the House of Lords, Lady Royall, describes as “an unavoidable necessity for the DFT process”.

Woolas and his government are in clear breach of the council of ministers directive, which “provides for the special vulnerabilities of asylum-seeking children and minimum standards for arrangements for their welfare, treating the best interests of children as a primary consideration”. The directive came into force in UK law in February 2005 and requires states “to make special arrangements for the accommodation of children to meet their needs and best interests. This does not equate to detention”.

The Home Office’s increasing resort to scare stories about child trafficking follows on from a similar piece of nonsense that junior minister Meg Hillier came out with on the BBC’s Daily Politics show on Friday. She suggested that if the government stopped locking up children then childless asylum seekers would have an incentive to acquire a “get out of detention free kid” from a passing child trafficker.

The government’s constant talk of “illegal migrants”, “would-be child traffickers” and “frivolous” and “vexatious” abusers of the judicial system is intended to deflect attention from its own failed policies in treating asylum seeking families fairly and humanely, and to foster a climate of disbelief and contempt in relation to those who seek the sanctuary of our shores. No country can call itself civilised if it engages in the persecution of the persecuted, however popular the contempt for them may be among the public at large or how many votes a government that is desperately clinging to power thinks it may salvage.

Refugee & Migrant Justice report finds UKBA treatment of children “inhumane and unlawful”

Refugee and Migrant Justice, a charity that provides legal advice and support to asylum-seekers and other vulnerable migrants in the UK, today issued a report  Safe at Last. Children on the front line of UK Border Control which found consistent evidence of the government’s failure to abide by its safeguarding duties under Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009.

RMJ investigated the treatment of over 30 young unaccompanied minors who have been detained at the Port of Dover as “illegal entrants” – all of whom were subject to lengthy and improper interviews, often without access to urgently needed medical treatment or the presence of a responsible adult. Information gleaned from these interviews when the interviewee is exhausted, highly stressed and often in physical pain is frequently used to undermine the credibility of the young person for the purposes of denying their asylum claim. Contrary to UKBA statements there is no evidence that such interviews are held in order to secure the welfare of the child but rather that such children are made to endure the harsh detention and immigration control procedures to which adult suspected illegal entrants are subject. A typical case cited by the RMJ report is that of Ali.

Ali was 14 when he arrived in the UK. He had a very painful bladder condition and the UK Border Agency interviewed him without offering him medical care:

When I arrived in the UK I was arrested and handcuffed. I think the police arrested me. I was feeling very ill and I was tired and hungry. I told the police officers that I was tired and needed to sleep but they said I could not. I was interviewed that night and I don’t know what time it was, maybe 11pm or midnight. I was asked how old I was and I told them I was 13. During the interview I said I felt ill. I had a pain in my genital area and I could not hold my bladder. I told the officers this, but they did not do anything. They just wrote something down and asked the next question. I found it difficult to concentrate as my mind was on this pain. I was also very hungry because I had not eaten anything. I didn’t feel myself. I was too scared to say anything, I was scared that I would be sent back or maybe locked up. I didn’t have anybody there to explain what the interview was about. I can’t even say how long the interview lasted.

About five minutes after the interview finished I was given the opportunity to eat some food but then they locked me up for the night. They did not explain why. It was very cold. I had a short-sleeved t-shirt on. The floor was like concrete and it was freezing. I wasn’t given a blanket or anything for my arms. I didn’t sleep at all. A doctor did not come to see me.

Refugee and Migrant Justice is currently seeking a judicial review of the lawfulness of the UKBA’s detention and illegal entrant interview practices in relation to unaccompanied minors. Because the legal process can be lengthy time consuming, RMJ has called on the the UK Border Agency to discontinue immediately its policy of interviewing children before safeguarding their welfare. It further recommends that

  • UK authorities, including the police, refer children to the children’s services department of the relevant local authority as soon as a child becomes known to them, to ensure their welfare needs are met
  • Children are offered appropriate medical treatment, rest and food immediately after being brought into contact with the UK authorities
  • Interviews only take place after children have recovered from their journey, are well, and have had access to relevant services
  • Children are  given access to legal representation prior to and throughout any interview with the UK Border Agency.
  • The practice of interviewing children alone, by an untrained interviewer and without an independent adult and legal representative being present is stopped.
  • The UK Border Agency recruits a wider range of qualified interpreters to ensure children are safeguarded and correctly understood, as well as understanding the questions put to them. These interpreters should be trained to work with children and have Criminal Records Bureau clearance.
  • The UK Border Agency  urgently publishes its Asylum Policy Instructions on how to assess asylum claims of unaccompanied asylum seeking children. This guidance has been missing for a number of years and without clear guidance to staff on the assessment of asylum claims for children serious problems such as those documented in this report will continue.

Corry Hewitt: an inspiration in the campaign to end child detention

Corry Hewitt

One of the early, dedicated supporters of End Child Detention Now, Corry Hewitt, died in February and is a great loss to the campaign. Corry’s anger at the injustice of child detention continues to inspire us and we remember her with much love and gratitude.

Hillier – detention prevents sale of trafficked kids to failed asylum seekers

Responding to Michael Morpurgo’s film on the detention of children at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, Home Office Minister Meg Hillier gave an astonishing interview in which she stated in response to a question from presenter Jo Coburn:

Let’s be clear, nobody wants to see children detained. Certainly I don’t. But we do have an immigration system and we have rules. And when somebody doesn’t have legal right to stay in the country, we ask them to leave voluntarily, and if they don’t we have to have a way of getting them out of the country.

Now with children being detained I’m faced with a number of options.

One is that we just stop it altogether, uhm but then we would have children, I think, with a very high price on them, because we’d actually be saying say if you have a child you will never be detained to be deported and I think that it would raise the risk of child trafficking and put a very high price on a child, so I’d be very reluctant to go down that route. – Meg Hillier, Home Office Minister with special responsibility for children in detention on the Daily Politics, 19 March 2010.

Leaving aside the fact that the Home Office routinely separates children from their parents and that the reason that many women are currently on hunger strike at Yarl’s Wood despite having committed no offence is because they have been forcibly separated from their children, Hillier’s comment was clearly intended to create the impression in the mind of the audience that either a) destitute single asylum seekers would place orders for small children to be trafficked half way across the world by criminal gangs with forged identity papers (and no doubt matching the false ‘parents’ DNA and blood group or b) they would somehow borrow or adopt children who had already been trafficked into the country (with neatly forged ID documents etc) for as Meg said a ‘high price’ the minute some empty headed government decided to follow the soft-hearted Swedes, Australians and Canadians in not locking up children in detention centres. Because these governments foolishly gave into the pro-children/pro-human rights lobby, as we all know there are containers full of trafficked children just waiting to be delivered to failed asylum seekers for large sums of money in Toronto, Sydney and Stockholm. Please, please, if Meg is too busy praising the care and compassion of those who administer Serco’s £85 million anti-child trafficking repatriation unit would somebody let Interpol know asap?

For more on the surreal world of ‘Mystic’ Meg and the trafficked children read ECDN coordinator Clare Sambrook’s blog on OpenDemocracy.

Outsourcing abuse – UKBA’s handcuffing of detainees “disproportionate, unnecessary and inappropriate”

A Home Office commissioned report by Baroness Nuala O’Loan [now removed from the Home Office website with no archive link!] into a catalogue of serious abuses that detainees alleged they suffered at the hands of the UK Border Agency’s security contractors claimed not to have found evidence of ‘systematic abuse’, but did highlight alarming operational failures in relation to both the complaints process, the retention of paperwork by UKBA and the application of the use of force in immigration detention.

The leading human rights solicitors Birnberg Pierce & Partners, who have condemned the UKBA’s handcuffing of detainees as “disproportionate, unnecessary and inappropriate” compiled their report ‘Outsourcing Abuse: The use and misuse of state-sanctioned force during the detention and removal of asylum seekers’  in 2008 based on dozens of allegations of mistreatment at the hands of UKBA contracted security personnel.

One such case reported by The Guardian and The Independent involved a 32-year-old Cameroonian torture victim, who was subsequently handcuffed while being taken into the operating theatre for surgery, and again after coming round from the anaesthetic. On each occasion hospital staff asked for the handcuffs to be removed; on each occasion their requests were refused.

As a result of the concerns highlighted by the Birnberg Pierce Report, Baroness O’Loan made 22 recommendations for change-not one of which would have been made had these allegations not been brought to light. However, rather than welcoming the original report for bringing a number of serious operational failures into the open, the UKBA’s director Lin Homer in her foreword to the report castigated the authors of Outsourcing Abuse for damaging ‘the reputation of contractors’.

Contractors who already have a well documented reputation in a number of official reports from the Children’s Commission and HM Inspector of Prisons for  forcing in the doors of sleeping families in the early hours of the morning, regularly and needlessly handcuffing parents in front of their own children, and using prison vehicles to transport their ‘clients’ to detention facilities or airports despite the fact that according to Harriet Wistrich of Birnberg Pierce many  detainees ‘are survivors of horrific violence, torture and abuse who, as a result may be suicidal or suffer from mental illness’.

One of the most telling absences from the report is any consideration that children might be psychologically harmed by seeing their parents physically or verbally abused. For example, O’Loan says that

No complaints in relation to the treatment of children were identified in this Review, other than that in one case a mother stated that her three year old had wet herself because she had not been taken to the toilet.

However, many complaints highlighted in the original Outsourcing Report involved the verbal and physical abuse of parents in front of their children by UKBA employed security guards. Where these allegations were made, according to O’Loan, the investigation files were frequently found to be incomplete and confused and revealed a lack of thorough investigation.

But the same lack of thoroughness would appear to be a problem with the O’Loan report itself, since the report’s author relies almost entirely on documentary evidence from the Home Office and where it is missing makes no attempt to find out why or to interview independent witnesses or the complainants themselves. To simply comment in the case of AP, a woman from Zimbabwe who received an out of court settlement for civil damages against ‘Company 5’, who she claimed forcibly boarded her onto a waiting aircraft where

her arms were twisted and she was placed on the floor. Her baby was with her but left unattended. The escort officers abused her racially. There were six officers involved; two males and four females. The pilot refused to accept her on the plane.

that “this matter was not dealt with properly” is indicative of the ‘more in very mild regret than in anger’ tone of the entire report.

As hunger strikes in detention centres across the country proliferate and as new abuses of unaccompanied minors reach our office every day, the lack of engagement with the original report’s authors and the complainants featured in this follow-up ‘investigation’ highlights more than ever the need for a proper independent enquiry into the running of the UKBA’s immigration and detention operations.

Liberal Democrats call for end to child detention

The Liberal Democrat Spring Conference today pledged its commitment to ending child detention in immigration centres.

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne said:

“It is a moral stain on this country’s proud reputation in accepting refugees that we are routinely locking up children for months at a time even though they have committed no crime.

“Locking children up in this way can do them serious physical and psychological harm. This is the behaviour of the Victorian workhouses, not 21st century Britain.

“The Government must find its long lost moral compass and put an end to child detention immediately.”

Mashal released by judge pending new age determination investigation

Campaigners for the release of young Afghani orphan Mashal Jabari were delighted to hear that following a judicial review being lodged the judge agreed the following interim measures: until another full age assessment is completed, Mashal is to be considered 14 years of age and placed with a foster family in Wales where he has some support.

After being transported in a caged van with an adult detainee on the long journey from Cardiff to Oxfordshire, Mashall was placed in a dormitory with seven adult men. The UKBA planned to put Mashal on a flight to Afghanistan on Tuesday 9 March where his parents and sister had been killed for collaborating with the allied occupation forces. His older brother who has been given refugee status is currently taking his GCSE examinations in Leicester and is frantic with worry at the fate of his younger sibling.

Mashal was released from Campsfield House IRC at around 7.30 on Thursday evening and is now with his foster carers in Cardiff. A full update including details of further action and support that would help Mashal’s case to be resolved quickly and to assist him in beginning to recover from the trauma he has experienced in his own country and here in the UK will follow.

Thank you to everyone who sent letters, faxes and emails to the Home Secretary Rt. Hon. Alan Johnson MP, Evan Harris MP and their local MPs.

The response has been overwhelming, heartening and invaluable.

Welsh Refugee Council urgent call to stop detention and removal of 14 year old Afghan orphan

A 14 year old orphan has been arrested & detained in Campsfield Immigration Removal centre near Oxford, which exclusively holds adult males, and is due to be deported because the authorities claim not to believe he is under 18. His older brother has refugee status — the authorities accept that the older brother is under 18. . .As they say, do the maths.

Welsh Refugee Council today called on UKBA and Cardiff Council to act quickly to release Mashal Jabari, 14 years of age, from Campsfield detention centre, and to suspend removal directions until a full assessment of his age can be made. Welsh Refugee Council does not normally comment on individual cases, but in this instance believes that there are compelling compassionate grounds why this boy should be allowed to remain in the UK.

Zaki Jabar, aged 15, arrived in the UK alone and extremely traumatised in November 2008. He came from Afghanistan and when he left his father was missing presumed dead and his mother was sick. His family had been attacked after his father had given assistance to the American forces, and Zaki had seen his sister killed. He was placed in foster care in Leicester by Rutland Social Services and given Refugee Status. He is currently sitting his GCSEs. He was anxious to trace his younger brother Mashal.

Mashal Jabari arrived in the UK in October last year, and claimed asylum on arrival. By then he knew that both his parents were dead. He was assessed as being over 18 even though he said he was 14. He was sent to Cardiff where he was initially placed in the hostel for adult new arrivals. He was refused asylum in November. Welsh Refugee Council staff working in the hostel, who have now known Mashal for 4 months, have been extremely concerned because he seemed so clearly to be 14 rather than 18 and because he has been depressed and suicidal at the fear of being sent home to Afghanistan.

Mashal’s GP has stated in writing that Marshal appears to be under 18. Social workers in Cardiff are on record as saying that they think Mashal is under 18 following an initial assessment, but they have not carried out a full age assessment and so it has not been possible to persuade the Border Agency of his age.

Mashal said he had an older brother called Zaki who was also somewhere in the UK. Eventually, through a chance encounter, it has been possible for the 2 brothers to be reunited – they met last month in Leicester. Photos of the meeting show them with their arms around each other – Zaki the tall broad shouldered one, Mashal the small, boyish one.

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