Month: April 2010

Get Behind the Sanctuary Pledge!

End Child Detention Now is urging all its supporters to get behind the inspiring Citizens for Sanctuary prospective parliamentary candidate pledge campaign which is especially emphasising the scandalous detention of children by the UK immigration authorities. Dozens of PPCs have signed up to the pledge – but many more have yet to declare their support.

You can check the list of candidates who have pledged so far by clicking here.

This is why we need you to contact candidates in your constituency and to urge them to join the pledge. You can find a list of the candidates in your constituency by visiting the your next mp website. If a particular candidate has not signed the pledge email or call them to ask them why – the your next mp site provides contact details in most cases. Let us know what the candidates say or even if they decline to comment by dropping us a line at

So far the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, and Respect have committed themselves as political parties to end child detention (other parties are invited to join this list by emailing us). However, the two largest parties in the previous parliament, Labour and the Conservatives have not given such an assurance, which is why it is so important to find out the views of individual candidates.

End Child Detention Now has no political affiliations but we know we speak for many thousands of voters in demanding that immigration gulags such as Dungavel, Yarl’s Wood and Tinsley House should be shut down. People are dying in detention centres and threatening to take their own lives – how can we call ourselves a civilised democracy when our government abuses human rights on a daily basis?

If your sitting MP condones this misery then send them packing, and if their would be replacements won’t commit to ending child detention please don’t give them your vote either.

This is our greatest chance to return a parliament that upholds the principle of refuge and that all children’s rights are for all children. Together with our friends and fellow campaigners let’s pledge to end child detention now!

Ask every party what they are going to do about ending child detention

Here are 3 key questions that we are urging supporters to ask their candidates during the current 2010 election with follow-up information.  Postings to on-line discussion forums, calls to radio and TV phone-ins and direct questions at public meetings are strongly encouraged.

We would also like to hear from you about candidates who have pledged to support an end to child detention in the next parliament (and those who prefer to sit on the fence or refuse to support the humanitarian treatment of children and their families) so that we can publicise the names on our website. Email us at

Question 1:

How does your party intend to address the scandal of children being locked up in immigration detention centres?

The practice of locking up children in immigration detention centres has been condemned by the three Royal Colleges of Medicine, the UK Faculty of Public Health, the then Children’s Commissioner for England, the Scottish Government, the Synod of the Church of England, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Archbishop of Wales, the Chair of the Urban Bishops Panel, the Moderator of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, the Chair of the Office for Migration Policy of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, leading Rabbis, and all the major children’s charities as well as 121 Members of Parliament.

Question 2:

What will you do to ensure that every child matters – and that innocent children do not spend days, weeks and months locked up in conditions known to cause long term harm to their physical and mental health?

There is authoritative, irresistible and mounting evidence from the Children’s Commissioner for England, The Independent Monitoring Board for Yarl’s Wood, health professionals, welfare and rights groups, academics and inspectorates that children are being consistently and routinely harmed in detention. The Lorek report ‘The Mental and Physical Health Difficulties of Children Held Within a British Immigration Detention Center: A Pilot Study’, Child Abuse and Neglect, 33:573-585 details chilling accounts of the long term damage that babies, children and young people suffer. In 2008 the average length of stay in Yarl’s Wood IRC has actually doubled from 8–16 days, according to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons and  at least a third of child inmates are detained for more than a month.

Question 3:

What is your position on Britain complying with Article 22 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child?

Britain removed its reservation against Article 22 of the UNCRC but continues to detain approximately 2,000 children per annum. Grave concerns were expressed by Thomas Hammarberg the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe in Sept 2008 concerning the detention of children including unaccompanied minors by the UKBA.

Beverley Naidoo calls for an end to child detention in the pages of Nursery World

It’s not usual to have five-year-olds and 15-year-olds in the same storytelling workshop. But there was nothing usual about the event that illustrator Karin Littlewood and I ran last December for imprisoned children. They were behind bars, not for committing some horrible crime but because they were asylum-seekers, and because we live in a society that forgets it has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – a society that is forgetting human decency.

Our aim that day in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre was to offer such a good time that these young minds would temporarily fly beyond the barbed wire-topped fences, locked doors and gates. For a short while, Karin and I too might almost have forgottten where we were. It was the five-year-olds, two brothers, who reminded us. Avoiding eye contact, even when persuaded to help hold a long reel of paper for a story-drawing, these little boys told us through their body language and silent faces that they were traumatised.

All these children had experienced the terror of a dawn raid by the UK Border Agency and forced removal to detention-cum-prison. Some 2,000 children are put through this ordeal every year, even though families don’t abscond. As Dave Wood of the UK Border Agency let slip in evidence last year to a parliamentary committee, ‘it is not terribly easy for a family unit to abscond’.

So why does our Government continue to lock up children in conditions known to harm their mental and physical health? With an election coming up, few politicians want to risk being seen as ‘soft’ on asylum seekers.

But the medical profession has taken the lead in calling for the immediate end to child detention. Many children’s authors have spoken out strongly, and I call upon early years professionals to take action. My friends at End Child Detention Now can help you. Contact them at, which also has links to the public petition and the doctors’ petition. And hold your parliamentary candidates to account.

A pdf of the article can be found here.

Surveillance + detention = £Billions: How Labour’s friends are ‘securing your world’

Clare Sambrook writes for OpenDemocracy on how a former Labour Home Secretary makes ends meet by offering his security and counter-terrorism expertise to the companies that make millions from the British tax payer out of arresting and locking up children.

At the bustling Counter Terror Expo in London’s Olympia this week they are giving top billing to the security industry’s favourite politician. ‘The most experienced cabinet minister of modern times’, they call him: Dr John Reid.

Home office colleagues say Reid — Labour hard man, former secretary of state for health and defence, and home secretary — is the minister who brought business in from the cold. These days relations are warm and cosy. Marketing their wares as vital to the war on terror, while dreaming up everyday applications for intrusive high security kit, Reid’s friends have quietly advanced deep into the public sector — running schools, GP clinics and police investigations.

Out of government but still a serving MP, Reid has been taking £50,000 a year from G4S — the Group 4 Securicor giant.

He has been hosting ‘business breakfasts’, and talking up the scary threats and looming crises —  cyber attacks, pandemics, global warming, energy shortages, mass migration — that spell opportunity to his friends.

(They’ve made him honorary professor at the shadowy new Institute of Security and Resilience, at University College London; staff aren’t allowed to say whether industry is paying the bills.)

Life is good for G4S whose annual revenues have doubled to £6 billion in the past five years. Last month they picked up contracts for guarding foreign office buildings in the UK and in Afghanistan. They can afford to pay chief executive Nick Buckles (pictured) £3,835 every day.

G4S — slogan ‘Securing Your World’ — runs prisons, secure training centres and immigration centres including Tinsley House, where last year an asylum seeker who had been forcibly arrested and locked up, let go, arrested and locked up again, got predictably distressed — she was only ten years old — and tried to strangle herself.

Former Ghurkas-turned G4S personnel train British soldiers in mine clearance and ambush drills as part of their (increasingly outsourced) training before deployment to Afghanistan. John Whitwam, the former lieutenant colonel managing privatised Ghurkas, explains: ‘On Monday and Tuesday, they would be wearing Army uniform or dressed as the Taliban, by the end of the week they would be working elsewhere in G4S.’

Taking over core public services, G4S people monitor 12000 electronically-tagged offenders, run hundreds of police and court cells, tackle anti-social behaviour and transport half a million prisoners every year — as well as doing things like covert surveillance for insurance companies.

They are aggressively expanding the market for intrusive high security kit, touting number plate recognition technology to retailers so they can tell how frequently customers drop by.

They’re installing CCTV in schools — giving parents ‘an added sense of security’ — and more cameras in shopping centres, harvesting information about how we shop.

They’re promoting biometrics to help employers catch workers trying to cheat the clock-in system.

Their newest division screens and vets employees, not just at recruitment, but all through their working lives.

That’s G4S, ‘Securing Your World’.

All sorts of questions spring to mind. Do we want our world secured this way? What on earth was G4S doing locking up that little girl? Is the rise in surveillance evidence-based? Or is it Nick Buckles and his mates chasing five grand a day? Whose interests has John Reid been serving all these years?

And . . . are environmentalists so very dangerous that G4S had to deploy Ghurkas — battle-hardened in Iraq and Afghanistan — to protect ‘sensitive utilities’ ahead of last year’s London Climate Camp? Were they serious? Or was that a sales-boosting stunt?

G4S has even got a ‘police business unit’, whose managing director said late last year:  ‘We have a team of 30 of our guys in one force on a major investigation right now, practically doing all of the roles except that of the senior investigating officer.’

Does that make us feel secure? Or would we rather have real police officers, trained for public service?

G4S isn’t the only gigantic security company doing surprising things.

There’s Serco, ‘Bringing Services to Life’ and misery to thousands of children who have passed through the company’s Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire.

Business is brilliant. Shortly after celebrating record annual results — profits up 30 per cent to £177 million — chief executive Chris Hyman (£3,233 every day) spent one recent bright spring day down at Silverstone, test-driving his team’s Ferrari F430 ahead of the new racing season.

Besides locking up asylum seekers ‘with respect and understanding’, Serco brings its ‘deep public service ethos’ and ‘commercial know-how’ to defence, transport, civil government, science, the private sector and, with rising excitement, education and the NHS.

They have got an awful lot under corporate control.

Serco trains RAF helicopter crews, helps run the National Nuclear Laboratory and the Atomic Weapons Establishment.

They sell intelligence systems to law enforcement agencies including the National Crime Squad and the tax-man.

They help police forces connect intelligence with number plate recognition in systems so fast and flexible they can easily adapt to new police powers.

Serco supplies the rising numbers of covert surveillance vehicles that police forces demand, builds and runs prisons and youth offender facilities, monitors electronically tagged offenders, enforces curfews.

They’re running state schools in Bradford, Walsall, Stoke-on-Trent, they’ve got their fingers on 3,500 Sure Start children’s centres.

They provide out-of-hours GP services in Cornwall, employ ‘community matrons’ in Newham, they manage stacks of PFIs and will take more than £250 million from the NHS over the next ten years for pathology services alone.

They’ve got 7000 security-cleared staff working on ‘significant elements’ of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy.

And guess who has won the freshly privatised cabinet office contract to run the Emergency Planning College at Hawkhills in North Yorkshire? Yes. From Friday, Serco controls the training of the people who would take charge during emergencies and disasters when the Civil Contingencies Act — the one with all those alarming arbitrary powers — kicks in.

‘The challenges we face are unprecedented,’ says Serco. ‘They call for a seamless, holistic approach to security and civil contingency.’


For someone who gets so much business from the UK government, Chris Hyman seems surprisingly unruffled by the election. ‘We have very significant business with local authorities,’ he told CNBC’s business channel earlier this year. Regionalisation, ‘has gone very well with us.’

And anyway, ‘It’s pretty much, we work for the civil servants really. There’s not much that we do that has to go through Parliament for decisions.’

If that’s the case, then we must rely on civil servants to fight our corner should conflicts arise between the interests of society and the security industry.

Conflicts like this one, maybe.

For years, doctors working among asylum seekers noted disturbing numbers of injuries to people being moved about by private security companies. Two years ago, doctors and lawyers from Medical Justice published a report about it — called Outsourcing Abuse.

The government asked former Northern Ireland police ombudsman Dame Nuala O’Loan to make independent inquiries. Reporting last month she said there was, ‘inadequate management of the use of force by the private sector companies’, and made 22 recommendations for change.

The civil servant nominally in charge of the companies is Lin Homer, chief executive of the UK Border Agency. Responding to O’Loan’s criticisms, Homer spoke not a word against her commercial partners. She saved her reproach for the doctors and lawyers who had brought these troubling matters to light. Their offence? ‘Seeking to damage the reputation of our contractors’.

Read on:

Except where links are shown, all the information is drawn from company websites: Serco; G4S

Vote for an End to Child Detention this election

ECDN is urging all its supporters to cast their votes for the candidates most likely to support a ban on holding children in immigration detention centres in the next parliament—whichever party or parties form the next government.  If government ministers think they can lock children up without suffering any electoral consequences, they should think again, as this excellent local campaign from Liberal Democrat candidate Dave Raval (pictured) in Hackney South and Shoreditch—the seat currently held by Child Detention Minister Meg Hillier—demonstrates.

How ironic that the Labour MP in neighbouring Hackney North and Stoke Newington, Diane Abbott has been a stalwart campaigner for getting women and children out of Yarl’s Wood while Hillier has been busy making up ludicrous stories about why thousands more children need to be locked up. There should be no safe seats for politicians who trample on the human rights of innocent families fleeing persecution. Work to elect and support candidates like Dave and Diane who have pledged to end child detention and urge all those who are unfortunate enough to have Woolas and Hillier for MPs to reject them at the ballot box on May 6th.

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