Month: March 2011

ECDN delighted by support for “Keep Your Promise…” launch

Dozens of supporters from across London and much further afield joined with End Child Detention Now and Shpresa Programme on Saturday 26 March to launch the “Keep Your Promise…” video and to hear speakers discuss the campaign to end child detention and the prospects for a genuine end to detention in light of the government’s unveiling of plans for new ‘pre departure accommodation’ for asylum seeking families near Crawley in W. Sussex and the upgrading of Tinsley House as a secure facility for ‘high risk families’.

Esme Madill who spoke about the history of the ECDN campaign and the new “Keep Your Promise…” initiative said that she was delighted with the turn-out – especially given the transport disruption as a consequence of the TUC March for the Alternative demonstration from which many of those attending had just arrived. Esme urged all those present to remember the often irreparable harm that arrest and detention does to children and their parents and explained why it was even more important in light of the government’s announcement that it intended to end child detention to keep Nick Clegg and David Cameron to their word. Over 1,700 postcards had been sent to No 10 Downing Street so far and many more have been requested by faith groups, voluntary organisations and concerned citizens across the UK.

Esme was followed by the Co-Director of the Children’s Legal Centre, Syd Bolton, who provided a fascinating insight into the government’s child detention review. He reported that despite the initial euphoria that child detention was finally coming to and end, many charities and campaign organisations had reluctantly begun to qualify their enthusiasm in the knowledge that the UKBA was intent on maintaining the power to detain children and families as an essential component of  immigration control. However, the existence of Section 55 of the 2009 Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act, and recent landmark judgments in the UK Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights finally appeared to give firm legal basis to the principle that the best interests of the child must take precedence over immigration controls in all but the most extreme circumstances.

James Fisher then spoke on behalf of Student Action for Refugees and told the audience why the campaign to end child detention had been such an important cause for student campaigners for refugee rights for many years. The beauty of the Keep Your Promise… campaign lay in its simple affirmation of the need for the government to stay true to its commitment, he said. Signing and sending a postcard was a simple act that James hoped thousands of students would give their support to in the weeks and months ahead. Manuel Nashi’s campaign video was a highlight of the evening – especially the interviews with young former refugees who had experienced detention at different times in their journey to the UK. It was only the latest manifestation of the extraordinary support that the Shpresa Programme had provided to the campaign and Shpresa’s director Luljeta Nuzi and Ella gave a moving account of the involvement of Shpresa’s young people, service users and volunteers in numerous petitions, vigils, hand printing sessions and demonstrations in support of the cause.

Finally, Rich Alexander from London NoBorders spoke about the UKBA’s plans to convert a former special needs school in Pease Pottage near Crawley into a new secure detention facility. He explained the background to the involvement of the hotel chain Arora which is seeking to move into the lucrative immigration detention facility industry and how the security for Pease Pottage would be provided by G4S, the global security giant which has been widely criticized for its management of Tinsley House and previously of the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. G4S could also be facing corporate manslaughter charges for the non-accidental death of immigration deportee Jimmy Mubenga on board a flight to Angola in October of last year. After a lively and informative question and answer session the evening ended with a spirited dance and poetry perfomance by the young people of Shpresa and a rousing chant of  “Keep Your Promise…”

Keep Your Promise campaign launch London 26th March

On Saturday 26th March at 5.00pm-6.30pm
Oxford House
Derbyshire Street
Bethnal Green
London E2 6HG
Nearest Tube – Bethnal Green.

 
On 12 May 2010, Nick Clegg on behalf of the Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition government announced that the immigration detention of children in the United Kingdom was to be brought to an end. On 16 December Mr Clegg described the detention of children as ‘a moral outrage’ and announced the closure of the family wing of the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire. He said no children would be detained over Christmas. BUT… Not only was a child detained on Christmas Day, as many as 100 children were detained by the UKBA in the first six months of the coalition government. The new plans for a more humane approach to dealing with families whose asylum claims have failed includes converting a special needs school into ‘pre-departure accommodation’ surrounded by a 2.8 metre security fence – a new detention centre in all but name. This is why End Child Detention Now has teamed up with the Shpresa Programme which supports Albanian speaking families in London to initiate the Keep Your Promise campaign to hold Clegg and Cameron to their pledge to end child detention now and forever.

Speakers include

  • Esme Madill, End Child Detention Now
  • James Fisher, Student Action for Refugees
  • Syd Bolton, Children’s Legal Centre
  • Luljeta Nuzi, Shpresa Programme

Featuring

  • Launch of the ‘Keep Your Promise…’ campaign video.
  • Dancing from the young people of Shpresa
  • Postcard signing
  • Question and Answer Session on the new Home Office families’ removal programme and the ‘predeparture accommodation’ facility in West Sussex.

PROMISES, PROMISES

The most recent update on the Coalition Government’s promises to end child immigration detention is provided by a letter from David Wood of the UK Border Agency. It gives more specific details regarding the pre-departure accommodation, with which the UKBA plans to replace the current child detention facilities of Tinsley House. The title ‘pre-departure accommodation’ does little to deflect from the fact that the proposed site, near the West Sussex village of Pease Pottage, and currently in use as a semi-residential school for children with learning difficulties and behavioural issues, will be used to detain children and families.

It is planned that the new facility will be managed by Arora Hotels, owners of the subsidiary company that runs the existing school. Interestingly, it has been reported that no open procurement tendering process has taken place, which would seem to run contrary to both UK and EU legislation. A planning application has already been submitted by the UKBA and, despite assurances in the statement that consultation would be held with the local community, residents in the immediate area were informed of the plans little more than a week before the application was submitted.[1]

In addition, the UKBA has sought to restrict access to the details of the application, sending a letter to the planning authorities which states – “It would be helpful if it could be kept separately from the main Planning Register which the Department of Communities and Local Government has suggested you might establish by means of paragraphs 24 and 25 of the Memorandum to DCLG Circular 02/2006 Crown Application of the Planning acts. Any arrangements adopted should be designed to give the maximum protection possible to this information consistent with authorities’ statutory obligations.”[2] This memorandum refers to ‘sensitive planning applications’ where secrecy is in the ‘national interest’,[3] although this seems inappropriate for the proposals and contrary to the Coalition’s stated aim to encourage a shift towards openness and transparency in the immigration system.

Quite apart from the planning application process, the proposals raise serious concerns. The unit is intended to be secure, which in this case means a 2.5m palisade fence with electronic gates surrounding the site, and 24-hour staffing designed to provide “an appropriate level of security to protect the occupants of the site and deter them leaving the site.”[4] There will apparently be provision for children to be allowed to leave the facility, but this would be under supervision, for short periods, and subject to a ‘risk-assessment’. In other words, there are no guarantees that any detainee will be allowed to leave the facility, except to catch the plane that will be used for their enforced removal. If the maximum stay of 72 hours is actually respected, then it is unsure whether applications for leave (for a trip to the cinema, as suggested by the UKBA) will have time for a risk-assessment to be conducted before the credits are rolling. If the only opportunity that occupants of this new ‘pre-departure accommodation’ will have to leave the site requires application to a system which carries so many caveats, is this really an alternative to detention, or just alternative terminology?

Of course, a maximum stay of 72 hours (which is the disingenuous claim made by the ‘consultation letter’ sent to residents near Pease Pottage) could easily turn into a week, or 28 days in ‘exceptional circumstances’, as noted by the UKBA document “Open Accommodation: Accommodating Families Outside of Detention”.[5] Given past examples of families and children being detained for up to 190 days,[6] it is doubtful whether detainees will not end up being held for extended periods of time, although they will no longer have access to schooling since the already inadequate provisions that were available at Yarl’s Wood and Tinsley House will not be provided within this short-stay accommodation.

It may seem that the Coalition Government is trying hard to strike a balance between ending child detention and remaining ‘tough on immigration’, but these ‘alternatives’ to detention are themselves unnecessary and inhumane. Families with children are amongst the very least likely of asylum seekers to abscond, as Mr. Wood himself told the Home Affairs Select Committee in November last year.[7] Other countries have found more humane arrangements to accommodate families together in the community while they await decisions on their applications or arrangements for their removal. In reality, the Coalition is not striking a balance, but reneging on their pledge to end the practice of child detention.


[1] Available here http://62.189.207.187/pap_msdclive/framepage.asp?dc2=&appnumber=11/00330/COU under ‘Planning Statement’

[2] Available here http://62.189.207.187/pap_msdclive/framepage.asp?dc2=&appnumber=11/00330/COU under ‘UKBA letter’

[3] http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/planningandbuilding/pdf/150982.pdf

[4] Available here http://62.189.207.187/pap_msdclive/framepage.asp?dc2=&appnumber=11/00330/COU under ‘Planning Statement’

[5] http://www.eelga.gov.uk/documents/Policy%20and%20Priorities/Strategic%20Migration%20Partnership/Available%20resources/Open%20Accommodation%20process.pdf

[6] http://www.ilpa.org.uk/infoservice/22%20Detention%20of%20Children%20FINAL.pdf

[7] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmselect/cmhaff/970/09091604.htm

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