Month: June 2011

ECDN addresses Newham Refugee Week Festival

Shpresa celebrate Alabanian Summer Day during Newham Refugee Week Festival

I’d firstly like to thank the Shpresa Programme for inviting me to address you all today. My name is Tom Sanderson and I’m here to represent the campaign group End Child Detention Now.

To start with I’d like to tell you a bit about our campaign which began in 2009. Since then we have been working to put pressure on the UK government to stop placing children into immigration detention centres. We do not accept monetary donations from any organisation, although we are very happy to work with others who share our determination to bring an end to the imprisonment of children in the UK.

In this regard we have been very lucky to have been able to collaborate so often with the wonderful people at Shpresa. The insightful and moving video recorded and produced by Manuel has been such a useful campaign tool, and all the young people from the organisation who made the trip up to York to dance, to read poetry and generally made a huge contribution to making our own event during last year’s Refugee Week so engaging and vibrant.

And of course Lulji, Evis, Flutra and the entire Shpresa team have worked so tirelessly to support us in our campaign. Our deepest thanks go out to you all, you really have been invaluable to our cause.

So why are we so passionate about this issue?

Well, there have been many studies and reports which have confirmed the immense mental and often physical damage that children are subjected to when they are held in these detention centres, and there is actually quite a wide consensus that the practice breaches a raft of child rights.

We are by no means the only group that have been campaigning to end this, and there have been many statements denouncing the detention of children from high-profile figures, including doctors, lawyers and even members of parliament. Given the widespread opposition to the practice, it does seem surprising that nearly two years have passed, and in that time great effort has been expended by us and several other groups including Shpresa, and yet we still live in a country where a child can be effectively imprisoned not because of their actions, but simply because of the arbitrary lottery of nationality.

This is not to say there has been no progress. The family section of Yarl’s Wood detention centre has been closed, and the numbers of children detained have been significantly reduced. We have even had a promise from the current coalition government that they would bring an absolute end to what they themselves have referred to as a ‘scandal’ and a ‘moral outrage’.

So why, then, are we still campaigning?

Sadly, this promise has so far been largely empty. It seems especially empty in light of the new pre-departure accommodation facility currently being built not far away near the Sussex village of Pease Pottage. The site is scheduled to begin detaining families from the end of September, and as noted by Professor Heaven Crawley it can potentially accommodate nearly four and a half thousand children each year.

Although the new facility has been described by the UK Border Agency as family friendly, the site will still include a wire security fence over two metres high and CCTV cameras within apartments. Detainees will not be allowed to leave the site unless they make an application to do so and there is no obligation for the security staff to approve these.

In our view, this is still detention regardless of what they call it, and therefore children held there will be damaged in the same way as those that were detained in Yarl’s Wood and other removal centres.

The fact that the UK Border Agency has persuaded the charity Barnado’s to help them run the facilities there appears to have satisfied some groups that child detainees will not be harmed, and seems to have convinced them that the campaign has been won and that they – and we – should be satisfied with the compromise.

But we believe there can be no compromise when innocent children are still being victimised and mentally damaged by our own government. We are not ready to accept that this is the best that can be done, and go quietly back to our day jobs.

It is the detention itself which causes such damage to the children placed in it, and we doubt that it will make any difference to these frightened, confused, but blameless children whether some of the staff wear the uniform of a charity or that of a private security firm like G4S.

This company, are facing possible charges of corporate manslaughter after the death of deportee Jimmy Mubenga while being restrained by their staff during deportation. This company have now been chosen to play the role of ‘bad cop’ at the new detention centre.

In our view, this is still a scandal. It is still a moral outrage. So we will continue to fight against the ‘state-sponsored cruelty’ that persists despite the pledges made by our leaders in Westminster, for as long as it takes to truly bring it to an end, and we know that the Shpresa Programme will stand with us too. Thank you all.


ECDN and the Jewish Chronicle: A Clarification

End Child Detention Now has not and does not discourage specific groups from working with other campaigns (Asylum groups warn Jewish community over London Citizens, Jewish Chronicle on 10 June). The quote mentioned in the Jewish Chronicle article was taken from an online article published in openDemocracy (and re-published on and we would be glad to offer any organisations mentioned in the original piece a right of reply if they feel we have misquoted or misrepresented them. For the record, since its launch in 2009, ECDN has worked closely with a number of faith and non-faith groups in the common cause of ending child detention in the United Kingdom. Sadly, despite having promised to stop it, the current government plans to continue the practice of detaining children and their families as part of an entirely unnecessary and draconian policy of immigration control. We look forward to working with all opponents of this unsafe, unlawful and cruel practice until it is genuinely ended.

Let Down on Child Detention

BID and The Children’s Society’s recent report ‘Last resort or first resort?’ sounds a warning bell about the Government’s controversial policy of holding children and families in immigration detention.

[This article originally appeared on The Migrants’ Rights Network website]

Sarah Campbell

Sarah Campbell is a Research and Policy Manager at Bail for Immigration Detainees ( She previously worked at the Fawcett Society, a women’s rights organisation, where she led the organisation’s lobbying work on gender-based violence and poverty. She was also previously a Research Associate at Kings College London, where she carried out research on workplace discrimination.

The report examines the cases of 82 families with 143 children who were detained in order to be forcibly removed from the UK during 2009. Its findings make for worrying reading, and raise very serious questions about the Home Office’s decisions to detain these families.

[Read the report Last Resort or First Resort?]

In the vast majority of these cases, families were detained despite there being little risk of them absconding. There were often barriers to the families returning to their countries of origin during the time they were detained, which meant it was not possible, lawful or in the children’s best interests for the Home Office to forcibly remove them.

In three cases, families were actually put on flights and forcibly removed from the UK, only to be flown back when it became clear that their were legal or documentation barriers to their removal. 61% of the families in our study were eventually released back into the community, their detention having served no purpose.

We also found that safeguards which were intended to protect children’s welfare were ineffective. In one case, a mother refused over 60 meals while in detention, and reported that her son witnessed the aftermath of a suicide attempt by another detainee. Reviews of the family’s detention stated that there were ‘no concerns’ for the family’s well-being and ‘no medical issues’. Six months after the family’s release, this child was still receiving counselling as a result of mental health problems he developed in detention.

At BID, we have for years been representing families who have been subjected to this type of appalling treatment by the Home Office, and campaigning for an end to the immigration detention of children. We were therefore delighted when, in May 2010, the coalition government announced that they would stop detaining children.

However, we were extremely disappointed by subsequent announcements that children will in fact continue to be detained for up to seven days at a time. While the new limit of seven days is clearly an improvement on the previous situation where children were detained without any time limit, experience shows that arrest and detention, even for short periods, can cause extreme distress to children. For example, the Guardian reported on a ten year old girl who was detained in 2009 attempted suicide three days after her arrest.

Furthermore, there has been no serious effort made by the Home Office to address the systemic problems which can lead to families ending up in detention – such as poor decision-making on asylum and immigration claims. Meanwhile, the Government’s plans to cut legal aid mean that it is likely to become increasingly difficult for families to access the legal representation they so badly need to properly present their immigration or asylum claims.

The Government now plans to open a new short-term holding facility for families in Sussex. Critics estimate that up to 6,500 children could be detained in this facility every year. The Government claims that only small numbers of families will be detained there, ‘as a last resort’ – an all too familiar refrain for those of us who have long campaigned on this issue. To read more about BID’s work on the detention of children, visit our website.

Australia to deport hundreds of unaccompanied child refugees to Malaysian ‘Tenko’

Disturbing news from Australia reveals that Julia Gillard, the Welsh born Australian Prime Minister, intends to send hundreds of asylum seekers, including many unaccompanied children, to a Tenko-style detention centre in Malaysia complete with watch towers, punishment cages and razor wire.

Malaysia's Semenyih immigration depot (source

According to Australia’s Green Left magazine, UN human rights commissioner Navi Pillay has denounced the Malaysia deal and called Australia’s policy of mandatory detention of asylum seekers “a practice that can, and has, led to suicides”.

The Malaysian government has also been accused of using the brutal punishment of the rattan cane on thousands of foreign detainees in recent years. In 2002 the Malaysian government declared ‘illegal’ immigration to be a criminal offence, which means the cane can be used on ‘illegal’ refugees and migrants many of whom are fleeing human rights abuses or war in  Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Burma.

The so-called “Malaysia solution” in which it is proposed to swap 4,000 ‘genuine’ refugees held in Malaysia for 800 asylum seekers who have sought refuge on the Australian territory of Christmas Island is an attempt to frustrate the use of the Indian Ocean as a stepping stone to the Australian mainland. By forcibly removing vulnerable women and children to Malaysia the Australian government plans to deter would be refugees from making the perilous sea crossing from Indonesia.

Commissioner Pillay has warned that Australia is in breach of international law for its use of arbitrary detention with respect to asylum seekers, including many hundreds of children who continue to be detained for several months. Commissioner said that

Mandatory detention is also a practice that can – and has – led to suicides, self-harming and deep trauma

This new policy would further undermine Australia’s reputation as a guardian of human rights because it could not ensure “no real risk of breach of the principles of the 1951 refugee convention and the convention against torture, which Australia has ratified and Malaysia has not”.

New Edinburgh Festival family detention drama in London preview

The Pleasance and End Child Detention Now present this year’s Charlie Hartill Award winning play Fit for Purpose by Catherine O’Shea.

Directed by Tanja Pagnuco. 12.45 Pleasance Courtyard, Attic 4-29th August (not 15th).

Inspiration In January 2010 fifty female asylum seekers’ who were being held in the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre went on hunger strike to protest at the conditions they and their families had to endure. This ended 5 weeks later with violence and women being removed to Holloway prison. This new play Fit for Purpose tells the story of Aruna and Kaela a Somali mother and daughter who are detained in Yarl’s Wood at the start of the strike. The extreme stress of their journey and subsequent mistreatment by the UK Border Agency makes Aruna retreat into herself while her thirteen year old daughter tries to understand what is happening.

Research Fit for Purpose is the result of extensive research over the last four years. Catherine O’Shea began researching while on the MA Writing for Performance at Goldsmiths College. She has interviewed asylum lawyers, asylum seekers, UK Border Agency staff and various NGO’s such as Bail for Immigration Detainees. She has accompanied the All Africa Women’s Group to parliament on several occasions and they inspired the women’s group which is central to the support Aruna receives in the play. Aruna’s story was inspired by the book Enslaved; The New British Slavery by Rahila Gupta. Development Fit for Purpose is this year’s Charlie Hartill Award winning play, the production is also supported by the End Child Detention Now campaign. It was developed at RADA with Lloyd Trott and actresses including Tanya Moodie and Chipo Chung. The play has had development readings at Soho Theatre, RADA and the Pleasance.

Production The director and cast have explored the issue of displacement through improvisation, physical exercises, characterisation and the use of real-life stories. They have examined the experience of being an asylum seeker in the UK and how this impacts on the self-confidence, self-respect, mental and physical health and sociability of the two main characters Aruna and Kaela. The ten other characters are shared by 3 actresses. The piece oscillates between strong realistic moments showing the reality of the system and stylised fragments conveying through poetry, physicality the inner-turmoil of these characters. London previews Tuesday 19th and Wednesday 20th July, 7.30pm at the Pleasance Islington.

PRESS ENQUIRIES Mimi Poskitt T 07789070505 E LISTINGS

Dates: 4th – 29th August 2011 (not 15th August) Venue: 12.45 Pleasance Courtyard, Attic Tickets: £10 (£8) Weekends £9 (£7) Weekdays Box Office: 0131 556 6550 To book review tickets for this show please contact the Pleasance Press Office 0131 556 6557

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