Child detention is ‘state sponsored cruelty’- report finds

Today the charity Medical Justice launches the most comprehensive report on the harm done to children held in immigration detention.  The 84 page ‘State Sponsored Cruelty‘ report is based on the findings of 141 cases involving children detained between 2004 and April 2010.

“We welcome the report from Medical Justice as it highlights again the harmful effect that administrative detention has on the physical and psychological health of children and young people. The coalition government’s promise to end the detention of children for administrative purposes is well received.  However, together with Medical Justice, we call on the government to make this pledge a reality, and in particular to do so in a way that does not separate families and that puts the welfare of children first. We encourage the UKBA to embrace their new statutory duty to safeguard children, and ensure that cases are properly reviewed.”
Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
Royal College of Psychiatrists
Royal College of General Practitioners

The report, which has been covered in The Guardian, The Independent and by BBC News found that

• Children spent a mean average of 26 days each in immigration detention. One child had spent 166 days in detention, over numerous separate periods, before her third birthday. 48% of the children in this report were born in the UK. The report found that:

• 74 children were psychologically harmed. Symptoms included bed wetting and loss of bowel control, heightened anxiety, and food refusal. 34 children exhibited signs of developmental regression, and six children expressed suicidal ideation either whilst in or after they were detained. Three girls attempted to end their own lives.

• 23 children would not eat food for a period of time. UKBA have admitted that some detainees were being offered food beyond its ‘best before’ date. Some children lost significant amounts of weight.

• 48 children were reported to have witnessed violence, mostly during attempts to remove them from the UK, and 13 were physically harmed as a result of violence in detention.

• 92 children had physical health problems which were exacerbated, or caused by immigration detention, including fever, vomiting, abdominal pains, diarrhoea, musculoskeletal pain, and coughing up blood. 50 of these children were reported to have received inadequate healthcare in detention including failures to recognise medical needs, failures to make appropriate referrals, and delays in treating. Some children were left in severe pain.

• Despite official guidelines that children should be given appropriate protection from infectious diseases such as malaria, malaria, tuberculosis, and yellow fever, there were concerns in 50 cases about failures in this respect. Some children were alleged to have been administered inappropriate and dangerous malarial prophylaxis in attempts to ensure their removal from the country.

• 73 adults were reported to have been suffering to such an extent that it was affecting their ability to care for their children. Many of these parents were assessed by independent doctors who verified injuries consistent with claims of torture. Numerous parents expressed suicidal ideation and were self-harming.

• 38 children were separated from their families, sometimes after parents were put in isolation having voiced concerns about the way their children were being treated. Some children were removed from their parents and taken into care whilst their parents were detained. Some parents were separated from their children for weeks.

Letter to The Guardian about State Sponsored Cruelty

The Refugee Children’s Consortium is a group of 30 NGOs working to ensure the rights and needs of refugee children are promoted and respected in accordance with domestic and international standards. We have long campaigned for an end to the detention of children for immigration purposes and we welcome Medical Justice’s report, State Sponsored Cruelty, launched today, which exposes the physical and psychological damage caused by detaining children.

In May 2010 the government pledged to end the incarceration of children for immigration purposes. Two months later Nick Clegg announced that the facilities for families at Yarl’s Wood would be closed, describing this harmful practice as a moral outrage. It is now September, Yarl’s Wood remains open and children continue to be detained. The UK Border Agency received 342 submissions during its review into the ending of child detention, yet, thus far, there has been no positive change in policy or legislation. Instead, new policies, described as pilot schemes, have now been put in place, such as one to remove families without sufficient notice – which, rather than limiting harm, could damage children even further. It is unacceptable to continue to detain children while alternatives are explored. Given the shocking medical and legal evidence from State Sponsored Cruelty, we urge the government to make good its commitment to end the detention of children for immigration purposes, and to ensure that the welfare of children is protected at all times.

Kamena Dorling

Chief executive, Refugee Children’s Consortium

A public meeting launching the report will be held in the House of Commons on Thursday 9 September in Committee Room 10 from 4pm-6pm with Julian Huppert MP (Lib Dem) Jeremy Corbyn MP (Labour) and Peter Bottomley MP (Conservative). Speakers include:

* Mr. S – detained with his partner and children at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre
* Dr Sarah Wynick – child and adolescent psychiatrist
* Dr Nick Lessof – Consultant Paediatrician, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
* Jon Burnett – Medical Justice, author of ‘State sponsored cruelty’
* UK Borders Agency representative (invited)


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