Detention of asylum seeking children is abuse

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By Clare Sambrook, a co-ordinator of citizens’ campaign End Child Detention Now

Community Care, November 4 2009.

One key feature of government guidance issued this week on how UK Border Agency staff should care for the children they lock up, is ‘safer recruitment’. Officers raiding family homes and searching children in their beds will be thoroughly checked, with ‘references always taken up’.

That begs the question: just how low were standards until now?
Actually, we don’t need to guess how bad things are in UKBA’s asylum-seeker prisons.

“State-sanctioned neglect”

Families fresh out of detention confirm in every detail the recent report (pdf) by paediatricians and psychologists in Child Abuse & Neglect who found that children detained at Yarl’s Wood were ‘clearly vulnerable, marginalized, and at risk of mental and physical harm as a result of state sanctioned neglect.’

The doctors recorded comments from parents about their children’s ‘sexualised behaviour’, about older children’s tendency to wet their beds and soil their pants, about the ‘increased fear due to being suddenly placed in a facility resembling a prison’, about the ‘abrupt loss of home, school friends and all that was familiar to them.’

The doctors reported the photographing and the fingerprinting, the roll calls and the body searches, the ID cards that children must carry at all times, the ten locked doors between freedom and the family centre, the steep deterioration in parents’ mental health and parenting abilities, the self-harm and the suicide attempts.

Human suffering

To speak, as the government did this week, of giving children the ‘opportunity to thrive’ in the context of this moral calamity would be laughable if it were not for the human suffering behind every statistic.

Last weekend, immigration minister Phil Woolas revealed in a letter to Pete Wishart MP that 889 children from 488 families had been detained for more than 28 days between April 2004 and September 2009.

No matter how good the guidance, nor how diligently some people may follow it, the fact is that innocent children, whatever their immigration status, do not belong in prison.

It harms them. There is no need for it. There is no evidence that families with children are likely to abscond. The detention of asylum seeking children is absolutely unacceptable. It is state-sponsored child-abuse and it must stop.

End Child Detention Now has launched a petition calling upon the government to stop detaining children.

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