Category: child detention
with thanks to Martin Rowson
The auction raised £350 for End Child Detention Now’s fundraising appeal. Donations are still welcome by cheque made out to “Shpresa Programme” (please mark ECDN on the back of the cheque) and addressed to Shpresa, Mansfield House, 30 Avenons Road, Plaistow, E13 8HT.
Pictured Dr Nick Lessof (left) collecting ‘The Pinocchio Protocol’ from Martin Rowson at a venue in central London which looks suspiciously like a pub.
Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told his fellow Liberal Democrats at the party’s conference in Birmingham to “hold your heads up and look our critics squarely in the eye”.
Among the many things that Liberal Democrats can be proud of when squaring up to their critics, Clegg told delegates, was that child detention has “ended”.
Michael Moore, the Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Scotland, was a little more circumspect. Borrowing — perhaps inadvertently — from Star Trek, he declared: “We have ended child detention as we know it.”
In a similar vein, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesman, Tom Brake, writing in the Guardian last month, rejected Natasha Walter’s charge that the government had reneged on its “we will end child detention” coalition pledge (Walter said detention was “making a comeback”), but Brake admitted:
The planned new centre at Pease Pottage does have “a locked environment for … families “…This will only be for up to 72 hours, in the rare cases where a family refuses to leave the country voluntarily, and children will be allowed out of the centre after a risk assessment and with proper supervision.
‘The Cedars’ pre-departure accommodation at Pease Pottage, we are reassured by Barnardo’s chief executive Anne Marie Carrie, “has ambitions to be fundamentally different” from notorious immigration detention centres like Dungavel and Yarl’s Wood. We can be sure of that because the 29 Barnardo’s staff who will be supervising the child detainees have been told they must seek to “safeguard children and treat families and children with compassion”.
Pease Pottage is certainly ‘safe’ and well–guarded, boasting locked accommodation behind a high perimeter fence with security staff on duty 24 hours a day. In order to ensure their safety, children will be ‘compassionately’ searched on arrival according to ‘the Cedars’ operating manual.
Fingers-crossed, the children won’t enquire about the discretely locked cupboards accessible only to security staff that contain ‘suicide prevention kits’, (anti-ligature knifes are recommended by HM Inspector of Prisons). Care staff and security guards will carry swipe cards at all times to enable them to pass between the detainees’ rooms and the controlled areas of the facility. In keeping with a ‘family feel’ environment, security staff will have access to all areas at all times. Visitors, on the other hand, will be restricted to the visitors’ lounge to which detainees will be escorted and returned by G4S guards.
G4S is a global security company with a multi-billion pound turnover, which specialises in managing prisons, detention centres and escorting prisoners and detainees. A recent Chief Inspector of Prisons report found that G4S escorts showed “a shamefully unprofessional and derogatory attitude”, and used unnecessary force and racist language. G4S employees, until recently, included the three men arrested in the case of Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan deportee, who died on a British Airways plane in October last year while being ‘removed’ by G4S. Other passengers described how Mubenga was forcibly restrained as he complained he could not breathe.
G4S also manages the contract for Tinsley House near Gatwick Airport where two years ago a 10-year-old Nigerian girl was found strangling herself with the cord of an electric kettle. The expensively refurbished Tinsley House will continue to detain children in so-called ‘border turn around’ cases or where the parent or guardian is being deported following completion of a prison sentence or because they are considered too dangerous or disruptive to be held in the ‘family friendly’ accommodation at Pease Pottage.
The Liberal Democrat election manifesto pledged to do so much more than ending child detention. Asylum seekers would be permitted to work, “saving taxpayers’ money and allowing them the dignity of earning their living”. And there was the promised amnesty for “people who have been in Britain for 10 years, speak English, have a clean record and want to live here long term to earn their citizenship”.
All these pledges have come to nothing. But luckily Clegg can look us squarely in the eye because “child detention has ended”.
While Moore, Brake and Clegg may be able to spot the difference in the child detention we knew — the one that Clegg labelled “shameful” less than a year ago in his December speech to London Citizens — and the rebadged, rebranded, repackaged ‘pre departure accommodation’ at Pease Pottage, can anyone else?
It’s your truth Nick – but not as the rest of us know it.
The companies managing UK immigration have come in for criticism once again, in new research — ‘Is that what you call good service?’ — by pressure group Ethical Consumer.
The report scrutinises the environmental and ethical records of twenty of the companies now profiting from the privatisation of public services — including health, education, care and justice — and rates them among the UK’s most unethical. Companies entrusted with the care of asylum seekers, including unaccompanied minors and families with young children, are among the very worst.
While the research takes into account a wide range of criteria from factory farming to tax evasion, some of the categories are of particular relevance to assessing a company’s suitability to hold a duty of care over vulnerable persons. G4S and Serco, who dominate UK immigration escorting and detention, have the lowest possible rating for the ‘human rights’ category, contributing to their being placed in the very bottom rungs of the report’s ethical table.
Another significant category is ‘political activity’, where Ethical Consumer finds a “corporate culture of widespread lobbying to gain access to Whitehall power-brokers, donations to political parties and a revolving-door policy of former government ministers heading straight into jobs with some of the companies surveyed.” G4S and Serco scored the worst possible rating for this category.
G4S runs several immigration detention facilities, including the newly opened and euphemistically named ‘pre-departure accommodation’ incarcerating families and children. Ethical Consumer’s report is the latest in a long line of damning criticisms of the company and its practices, including two separate reports published in July by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, and Amnesty International. Last year an assessment of safety conditions at Brook House, one of the G4S centres, showed ‘the worst ever results’.
Given the numerous accounts in these reports of policy breaches, inadequately trained staff and both physical and mental damage caused to detainees while in the care of G4S — not to mention the death of Jimmy Mubenga after ‘restraint’ by G4S last year — it is unsurprising that the company scored so poorly with regard to human rights.
With regards to ‘political activity’, G4S pays £50,000 a year to former defence secretary John Reid MP (now Lord Reid) for ‘strategic advice’, an appointment made mere months before G4S were able to secure a lucrative four year MoD contract and while Reid was still a serving MP.
For its part, Serco has been criticised many times for the conditions at Yarl’s Wood detention centre which led to repeated hunger strikes by detainees, as well as recent condemnation of conditions at Colnbrook centre near Heathrow Airport.
That responsibility for caring for those in administrative detention — including children and vulnerable adults — is in the hands of such companies is a long-standing scandal. The government’s rapid acceleration in its abrogation of responsibility in favour of companies that fail so spectacularly to meet ethical standards will soon touch all our lives.
Croydon No Borders are organising a demonstration against the opening of a new family immigration prison (euphemistically referred to by the Home Office as ‘pre-departure accommodation’) on Saturday 30th July, 1pm at Muster Green park, Hayward’s Heath.
Hayward’s Heath is where Mid Sussex District Council, the local authority which approved planning permission for the new asylum prison is based.
G4S who will be running escort and security services at the new prison is still under investigation for the alleged manslaughter of Angolan Jimmy Mubenga who died while being restrained by three escort officers on a flight from Heathrow in October 2010. This shocking case is also being investigated by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.
Meanwhile, G4s ‘corporate partner’ and ‘Play facilities’ provider at the prison will be children’s charity Barnado’s against whom an active campaign is running involving the disruption of fundraising events and the picketing of Barnado’s shops and head offices.
Saturday’s demonstration will also provide an opportunity to protest against the opening of a new high security child detention unit at the expensively refurbished Tinsley House near Gatwick Airport, and G4S’s ‘distressing and objectionable’ practice of arresting and forcibly escorting ‘reserve’ detainees to bundle on to deportation flights if the intended victims are unable to fly. See Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prison’s investigation of the G4S operation at Tinsley House reported in The Guardian 26 July 2011.
Please rememver to bring your banners, placards and instruments and demand an end to detention and deportation.
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.
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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
(This article originally appeared in openDemocracy on 11 May 2011)
A year ago, the coalition pledged to halt all child detention by this very day. Yet the recent news that six children were held in three separate detention facilities by the UK Border Agency in March comes as no surprise to campaigners who have warned that the UKBA is deliberately flouting Nick Clegg’s pledge to end the ‘moral outrage’ of child detention.
Home Office statistics reveal that four children — one aged under five — were held in Tinsley House, near Gatwick Airport in March 2011. An older teenager was held at Gatwick’s Brook House and a child aged between 12 and 16 was detained at Colnbrook, the Harmondsworth facility built to category B prison standard. In February a child aged between 12 and 16, believed to be unaccompanied, was held at the Campsfield House immigration removal centre for adult males near Oxford.
This month new ‘pre-departure accommodation’ is due to open in a former special needs school in the village of Pease Pottage near Gatwick. Tinsley House is being expensively refurbished as a high security detention facility to accommodate families deemed too “disruptive” for Pease Pottage – in other words, anyone who protests against alleged mistreatment or lack of due process, including those engaging in hunger strikes.
Central to the Border Agency’s planning application to Mid Sussex County Council was that the new facility at Pease Pottage will ‘have a homely feel’. ’Most importantly. . . the facility will be part-operated by a well known national children’s charity [Barnardo’s], who are already working with the UKBA in relation to its design and way it will function.’
The Council took on trust the UKBA’s claim that ‘the security for the site will not be greatly different to the existing school’. Homely design functions include a 2.3m perimeter fence, floodlighting, CCTV, internal and external room locks, and a new internal fenced ‘buffer [area]…to prevent the opportunity for people with access to the boundary fence from having contact with the occupants’.
Little mention was made in the public planning hearing that the firm responsible for security will be G4S—a company that may face corporate manslaughter charges as a consequence of the tragic death of Jimmy Mubenga while being restrained by four of its security guards on a flight to Angola.
A number of charities and campaign organisations who took part in the government’s child detention review process last summer feel frustrated and betrayed by the UKBA whose real agenda has never changed from regarding detention and enforced removal as a key aspect of immigration control. But few have publicly opposed the coalition government’s enforced returns policy for families, or the retention of Tinsley House as a family detention facility, or the opening of Pease Pottage.
Other groups have gone beyond passivity and thrown their weight behind the government’s new detention policy. Citizens UK, the self-styled ‘home of community organising in Britain’, has, bizarrely, claimed credit for single-handedly ending child detention, while collaborating with the UKBA, specifically helping to ensure that asylum seekers go quietly. Citizens UK is identifying ‘community sponsors . . . who have a pre-existing relationship of trust . . .with an asylum seeker’, offering ‘ongoing, pastoral support to the individual/family going through the asylum process which is of benefit to both the applicant and UKBA’.
By contrast, the ‘Keep Your Promise’ campaign, launched at the beginning of the year by End Child Detention Now, has resulted in over 2,000 postcards being sent to 10 Downing Street from dozens of faith groups, refugee community organisations and local Student Action for Refugees groups calling on Cameron and Clegg to honour their commitment to end child detention. A parallel campaign against the collaboration of Barnardo’s with the detention of children has successfully targeted the charity’s network of shops and fund-raising events.
The UKBA says the new system’s fairness and kindness will be ensured by a new ‘Independent Family Returns Panel’ providing ‘independent advice . . . on the method of removal . . . of individual families when an ensured return is necessary’. Yet the panel has no powers to challenge or overturn a decision to seek removal, and the UKBA or the immigration minister can ignore its advice, if for example the panel recommends that a family should not be detained.
The new chairman of the Independent Family Returns Panel is Chris Spencer, who was made redundant from his £120,000+ post as director of Children’s Services at Hillingdon Council in February. While seeking to assure Children and Young People Now that he has not always seen ‘eye to eye’ with the UKBA, Spencer nevertheless envisaged circumstances in which ‘detention at Tinsley House’ could be ‘used as a last resort’ for families if ‘every other avenue’ has ‘been explored fully prior to detention of the whole family’.
Chris Spencer’s new job reprises his role as joint chair of a QUANGO known as the ADCS/ADASS Asylum Seekers Task Force on which representatives from the UKBA and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services met to discuss and plan UK asylum policy, and in particular the safeguarding and welfare of children.
Spencer’s fellow joint chair at ADCS/ADASS, Pauline Newman (formerly Director of Children’s Services at Manchester City Council), has also been chosen by the government to serve on the Independent Family Returns Panel along with John Donaldson, former head of Immigration and Emergency Services at Glasgow City Council and Philip Ishola head of the Asylum and Immigration Service at the London Borough of Harrow, all of whom were previously members of the Asylum Seekers Task Force.
In its contribution to the Review into Ending the Detention of Children for Immigration Purposes the Asylum Seekers Task Force (along with the English, Welsh and Scottish Local Government Associations) set out its position on the detention of children and families. Far from seeing its role as defending and protecting vulnerable children and families, it is clear that the members of the Task Force, including the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, sought to push for a more aggressive and proactive stance to enforced family removals by the Home Office:
While it is accepted that removal of families that do not wish to leave can be extremely difficult, it is suggested that UKBA must put more resource and effort into increasing the removal rate of failed asylum seekers. A more proactive removal and enforcement policy to address key issues in removing unsuccessful asylum seekers is needed to reinforce the message that not complying does have consequences.
And what might those consequences involve?
In short: the detention of children.
Referring to the pre-existing child detention policy in Scotland, the Asylum Seekers Task Force and the Welsh, Scottish and English Local Government Associations remarked:
The government may wish to consider placing limits on the use of detaining children, while they develop alternatives. This could include limiting the use of detention to families who are immediately removable and for a short, limited period of time. Children should not, under any circumstances, be transported from Scotland to Yarlswood [sic] to be detained. It may be appropriate to make the decision to detain subject to external review.
In other words, despite the government’s stated policy not to detain children, the body whose senior membership overlaps with the new so-called Independent Family Returns Panel thinks that the detention of children should be ‘limited’ rather than abolished, and only when and if the government thinks it appropriate. The same ‘if it pleases the minister’ approach applies even to the policy of externally reviewing the decision to detain.
When the formal recruitment to the ‘independent’ panel starts next month, the UKBA will once again be doing the recruiting.
Some final questions for Anne Marie Carrie, the Barnardo’s chief executive who insists she will speak out if children are ‘routinely detained’ in the ‘homely’ surroundings of the Pease Pottage pre-removal detention facility.
If, as claimed, families will be detained only as a ‘last resort’, why is the Independent Family Returns Panel scheduled to meet twice a week and why will the new facility operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week all year round? And how many children’s drawings of security guards dragging parents into vans will the charity’s play workers pin on the wall before Ms Carrie speaks out against, or better still gets out of the detention trade?
Syd Bolton, Solicitor, Children’s Legal Centre*
*This is the text of the speech that Syd Bolton gave to the End Child Detention Now/Shpresa
Keep Your Promise campaign launch, Oxford House, Bethnal Green, London, 26th March 2011.
Thank you all for being part of this campaign and for inviting me to take part in
this important event. On a day of united action across the UK against public sector
cuts; against the loss of essential services and tens of thousands of jobs in the
public and voluntary sectors especially; we must not lose sight of the very close
relationship between unemployment and hostility to migrants; between ever
stricter border controls and the politics of insecurity. The free movement and
privileges enjoyed by global corporations are in stark contrast to the restrictions,
conditions and barriers placed in the way of families, their children and relatives,
to enjoy their lives together in safety, dignity and with respect.
The use of immigration detention is an important cornerstone of the border
policing mentality of not just the UK, but the bigger joint enterprise that is the
European Union. It is a bitter irony that only a few weeks before Libya was
bombed, Gaddafi’s government was one of Europe’s official frontier gatekeepers.
Turning people back from Sub-Saharan Africa trying to reach safety in Europe.
I say all of this to place in context the continuing use of immigration detention for
families with children.
Last year, the new coalition government announced it would end child detention.
But it quickly became evident during the summer-long UK Border Agency (UKBA)
detention review process that this was a measure that UKBA would not give up
lightly, whatever the political intentions.
Call me naive but I had always understood that when a Minister made a public statement
it was meant to be enacted by the civil servants, not undermined. But all summer, the
UKBA made it plain that they were not willing to give up the power to detain children,
as part of the policy of ending the detention of children. In the many discussions about
how to end detention held with the UKBA over that review period, it was clear that the UKBA
simply would not entertain the possibility of a major plank of its border control
powers being removed.
Despite the political rhetoric and constantly asking the NGO sector to come up with
alternative solutions – which we did, repeatedly – at the end of the process, the
ultimate sanction of detention could not be taken away. The forceful views of the
UKBA were made to such an extent that the bold and brave political statements made
at the beginning of this new government’s tenure could not hold, and the Minister had
to reframe his language and speak in a more equivocal voice, compromising with the
UKBA on how far the ending of detention would be allowed to go.
The euphemisms abound, but the reality remains. Let us not buy into the spin
that detention of children has been ended. As the UKBA said in their glossy
presentations when this was announced just before Christmas, ultimately, as a
last resort, pending “ensured return” a few families would continue to be
detained but in much reduced numbers, for much shorter periods, in more
suitable “pre-departure (secure) accommodation” (whatever this might turn out
In other words, after all the hype, the UKBA has only agreed, after huge pressure
from campaigners, international observers, the courts and child health experts, to
move back to the position it had always claimed to be the case under its family
detention policies and operation instructions; that immigration detention of
families should only be used in exceptional circumstances and for the shortest
Statistics and a recent succession of high court cases have shown that
those policies have not being followed and there remains a major
tension between child safeguarding and enforcement policies within the UKBA.
From a situation of the commonplace use of detention of families to one where it
may be used sparingly, indeed exceptionally and with a potentially more
transparent and accountable decision making and review process along the way is
a hard won and significant victory, make no mistake. Only time will tell whether
this actually happens in practice.
But it does not end child detention. The move simple re-brands detention. Other
respected voices who during the review had rather pragmatically, rather than it
seems on any principled basis, endorsed 72 hours detention at the end of the
process, have now changed their minds publicly and described it simply as a
repackaging exercise and called for an overhaul of the whole system.
This is not just our opinion. It is a fact that this new accommodation is detention,
whether it is called pre-removal accommodation or not; whether it has a play
area and no bars on the windows, whether after a risk assessment, families might
be permitted to go out on day release or let their children go out with detention
It is detention because the UKBA says so.
At a recent event to launch the new process, a senior Border Agency official said:
“legally it is detention, but it will look and seem totally different.”
And a UKBA fact sheet on pre-departure accommodation answers the question:
‘What rules will apply and under what legal power will you prevent
families leaving?’ with the answer:-
‘Powers to require the family to remain at the accommodation are derived
from Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971. It will ultimately be
operated in accordance with new Short Term Holding Facility Rules.’
So we are left with a new, potentially better decision-making process. Only as a
last resort will detention be used, and the welfare of children is now supposedly
central to the considerations of whether or not to detain. Where this is
authorised, these conditions will satisfy statutory safeguarding and welfare
These processes now need to be tested and scrutinised. Already they seem to be
found wanting. The new family removals panel is not as transparent as it looks on
paper and it seems like it will operate more like the Special Immigration Appeals
Court panel, (the anti-terrorism court) where the subject in question does not get
to take full part or to see all the evidence, deliberations and reasons. The family
removals review panel itself does not seem to have relevant child welfare and
health expertise and will not publish its detailed findings. It is predicated on how
to remove, not whether to remove. It does not seem to have the best interests of
the child at the heart of its considerations.
There has been a lot of criticism in the media recently of community and
voluntary organisations choosing to work with the UKBA as part of these new
processes, including the provision of welfare services in detention. I leave it to
others to judge whether or not it is better for non-governmental organisations
(NGOs) to contract to work inside this system to ensure that child welfare
standards are met, or best left to the usual private sector security companies and
to local authorities.
Authorities who, like in Yarl’s Wood, always had difficulties
retaining social work staff and balancing their own resources and interests with
the challenges of meeting the welfare needs of children in detention.
Whether in doing so, the institutionalising culture of a detention environment,
even with nice wallpaper and a garden compound, behind a secure perimeter
fence, will over time affect the responses and attitudes of those responsible for
the safeguarding and welfare of children in that environment, remains to be seen.
The institutionalisation of the prison warder and all those working in jails for long
periods is well researched and documented.
A separate and, in my view, earnest discussion needs to be had about this kind of
contracting, particularly in this climate of austerity. Shrinking funds make it
increasingly tempting or, in some cases, necessary for charities to find funding
wherever the opportunity arises. But there are always high risks in working within
the machinery of state rather than holding it to account from the outside. Should
NGOs remain interested independent parties or become formal partners? What I
do know is that our aims and objectives as charities should not become distorted
by the opportunity that is presented, even where the intentions are good.
That is a choice that faces many not for profit organisations at the moment. Some
may think that they can do it better than the private sector and will be motivated
by the improvements they feel they can bring to bear on difficult and
controversial policies and practices. Others may not be so cautious and careful.
On this version of child detention, time and external scrutiny, including
independent inspection and judicial oversight, will be the judge.
But whether detention is used against parents and their children held together, or
whether a parent is detained and children and other family members are left
isolated on the outside, whether children are supposedly free to come and go
under escort, the facts and the legal position are undeniable. Children continue to
be subject to detention and will suffer from its consequences, directly and
Children will continue to suffer from the developmental and psychological
damage inflicted on them, by being uprooted from the communities they have
grown up in, made friends in, went to school in, were born in and want to live in.
It is not all bad news.
In late 2008 the UK ended its immigration reservation to the UN Convention on
the Rights of the Child, making every child equal in law not just in the rhetorical
assertion that “Every Child Matters”.
In 2009 the UKBA was required to follow statutory safeguarding duties to
safeguard and promote the welfare of children in the exercise of all its functions.
These are major shifts in domestic law and the UK’s acceptance of its
international legal obligations is to its credit. Nonetheless it is taking a long time
to work through into practice, and the courts have found the UKBA slow and
wanting in this regard.
Since the detention review started last year and the new scheme was proposed,
the Supreme Court issued a truly landmark judgment on the best interests of
children whose parents are subject to immigration controls. This ruling includes
British Citizen children who cannot be removed or deported but whose parents
might still be subject to removal, including detention and where this would result
in the constructive deportation of their children.
The case of ZH (Tanzania) v SSHD recognises from the highest court in the UK, that
the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, is an integral part of UK
immigration and asylum law and policy.
In particular the best interests of children must be “considered first in decisions
affecting the child”, “must rank higher than any other”.
The judgement adds:
“It is not merely one consideration that weighs in the balance alongside other
competing factors and where the best interests of the child clearly favour a certain
course, that course should be followed unless countervailing factors of
considerable force displace them.”
The principle extends not just to decisions to remove a child or their family but
decisions to detain children under Immigration Act powers or to the separation of
a child from a detained parent.
The Secretary of State has conceded in court, that any decision which is taken
without having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of any
children involved will not be in accordance with the law.
In other words, where the UKBA detains a child or separates a child from his or
her parent(s) then a failure to show how the child’s best interests and welfare
have been assessed and then taken into account will render the detention
The “quality” of the detention centre and the length of detention may be relevant
factors, but it will be insufficient just to say that it is more child-friendly, or that
there is a now a child welfare provider in the accommodation centre. The needs
and best interests of each and every child have to be properly assessed and
considered when arriving at that decision.
The Supreme Court has said that the wishes and feelings of the child must also be
taken into account. If the UKBA cannot show how they have done this in every
single case, the decision is going to be flawed.
The Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg has gone further still.
In March this year a Grand Chamber judgment in a case called ‘Zambrano’ – a
Belgian welfare rights case – held that a child who is born or registered as a citizen
of a member state of the European Union has all the rights of a European Citizen
under the Treaty of Lisbon.
These include the right of children to have their parents care for them and to
remain with them in the country of the child’s citizenship, so that as children
they are able to enjoy their full European Citizenship rights. This means a
parent who is from a non EU country, irrespective of the parent’s immigration
status, or lack of it, whether a failed asylum seeker or not, must ordinarily
be allowed to stay with their citizen child.
In effect these families, including ones with British Citizen children, are no longer
detainable. If there is no prospect of removal then to detain in these
circumstances will, in my view, also breach the child’s European citizenship rights,
as well as their human rights. Whilst the UKBA clings to its patched-up detention
policies, the highest courts in the UK and in Europe are at long last recognising
the fundamental rights of every child.
Whatever the particular conduct of a child’s parents in their own asylum or
immigration history, the Supreme Court said profoundly in the case of ZH that:
“It would be wrong in principle to devalue what was in their best interests by
something for which they could in no way be held to be responsible.”
In my view, the detention of children is one of the ultimate ways of devaluing
their best interests.
Even if detention is not officially ended, justice and the rights of children demand
that it should be and the courts may finally render it to be an obsolete practice to
be consigned to an unenlightened and unacceptable part of our recent history.
Supporters of York-based End Child Detention Now launched their ‘Keep Your Promise’ postcard writing campaign on Saturday 5 February with help from local children who are urging David Cameron and Nick Clegg to honour their pledge to end the detention of children without delay.
The group’s spokesperson Esme Madill explained that
Children have continued to be detained as recently as Christmas Day despite Nick Clegg’s promise that no child would spend Christmas in an immigration detention centre. We are worried that plans for a ‘pre detention facilility’ near Gatwick will merely be a re-branding exercise and that children who are to be forcibly removed from their schools and communities will continue to suffer as a result.
The hotel group Arora International is thought to have acquired a residential school previously used for children with behavioural and learning difficulties, which they intend to convert into a secure detention facility complete with a perimeter fence.
Dr Simon Parker, a coordinator of End Child Detention Now commented,
We have real concerns about the lack of staff with appropriate child care and safeguarding qualifications both at Tinsley House and this new proposed facility at Pease Pottage near Crawley. Security companies and hotel groups cannot be considered fit and proper bodies for the safeguarding of vulnerable children. The UK Border Agency, which failed to tell the Deputy Prime Minister it had broken his pledge by detaining a child over Christmas cannot be trusted with the well-being of children, and the task must now be urgently passed to an independent professional body that has the confidence of child care professionals.
This article originally appeared in openDemocracy, 13 January 2011.
In the High Court on Tuesday, Mr Justice Wyn Williams might have driven the last nail into the coffin of Britain’s infamous and long-running child immigration detention policy. The detaining of children for immigration purposes has been denounced as a ‘scandal’ and a ‘moral outrage’ by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, yet the current Home Secretary has spared no expense in expertly and robustly defending the policy.
The action was brought at the end of last year by Public Interest Lawyers on behalf of a Malaysian family of three and a Nigerian mother and her baby. Liberty and Bail for Immigration Detainees supported the action (Suppiah and Others vs SSHD and Others). In a judgment that noted Nick Clegg’s repeated disavowal of child detention as morally repugnant, the judge found that:
“The Defendant’s current policy relating to detaining families with children is not unlawful. There is, nonetheless, a significant body of evidence which demonstrates that employees of UKBA have failed to apply that policy with the rigour it deserves.”
Specifically, the UK Border Agency were held to have breached the families’ rights to liberty, privacy and family life (their Article 5 and Article 8 rights), though not Article 3, which relates to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The Home Office does not contest that both families were arrested in the early hours of the morning, were given only a short time to pack, transported in locked and caged vans, and that a very young girl was body searched with her arms outstretched to the obvious distress of her mother.
Reetha Suppiah and her two sons, and Sakinat Bello and her baby, were then locked up at the infamous Yarl’s Wood Detention centre. As with many thousands of families to be sent there, soon after being taken into detention the children became sick and suffered from diarrhoea and vomiting. Reetha’s eldest son continues to suffer from a fear of authority and recalls seeing ‘policemen everywhere’ in detention.
In finding that “the detention of children is not something which should ever be lightly countenanced or allowed to continue except in such circumstances which clearly justify it and which do not reasonably permit of alternatives”, Justice Williams gave a clear and resounding rebuke to the policy of previous home secretaries, immigration ministers and their senior civil servants. Read more