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

0 thoughts on “PROMISES, PROMISES”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)