Category: children

Yarl’s Wood: Learning the lessons

This article is reproduced by kind permission of Public Interest Lawyers

Reetha Suppiah and Sakinat Bello and their young families are typical of the hundreds of recent victims of our immigration detention system.  Over the course of their time in Britain, they have integrated into our society and formed significant ties to it.  After years of fear and violence in their home countries, they were able to live in a comparatively peaceful environment, reporting regularly to the authorities.

Then, one February morning, their homes were raided by teams of UK Border Agency officials.  Danahar, Reetha’s eleven year-old son, assumed that he had done something wrong and that he was being taken away by “policemen” in the dawn raid.  Sakinat’s two year-old daughter, Ewa, was lifted from her bed whilst still asleep and awoke in the arms of a uniformed stranger.  The families were loaded into vans with meshed windows for onward transportation to Yarl’s Wood, a notorious detention centre the Children’s Commissioner has described as “no place for a child”.  Its family wing was finally closed last month, but children are still detained at a centre near Gatwick Airport.

Reetha and her boys spent 17 days in detention.  Sakinat and Ewa were released after 12 days, despite the fact that nine days earlier Ewa had been declared “unfit to fly” by a doctor.  All the children became sick almost immediately upon arrival.

The Court was presented with little evidence of child and family welfare having been taken into account at any stage prior to detaining the families.  The detentions were thus unlawful “for their entire duration.”  At no time did anyone ask the most basic question: “Is detention necessary?”.  On the facts of this case, the answer could only have been “no”.

The lamentable failures ranged from the depressing (such as a failure to complete the crucial Family Welfare Form) to the ludicrous (the assessment that a 2 year-old child ought to be accorded 90 points out of 100 on a “Harm Matrix” upon being checked in to Yarl’s Wood).  Those failures had to be viewed alongside the compelling evidence presented by Liberty, the human rights group, which detailed the many similar cases in which children are detained unnecessarily.  Detentions lasted an average of 16 days, but periods of 61 days were not uncommon.  Given the expert consensus on the inherently harmful effects that detention has upon children, the reckless, tick-box manner in which the Suppiah and Bello families were consigned to these prison-like conditions is indeed, in the words of Nick Clegg, “a moral outrage”.

The judge made clear that the proper interpretation of the Home Secretary’s power to detain children was that it could only be used in “exceptional circumstances” – circumstances that did not prevail here.   These families’ basic human rights – to liberty, to security of the person, to private, home and family life – were summarily violated.  The Government breached its statutory duties under the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 and its own policy which, on paper, should mean that detention is used only as a last resort.  Mr Justice Wyn Williams adjudged that it would be “premature” to hold that the relatively new policy was incapable of being applied lawfully in practice, or that it gave rise to an unacceptable risk of unlawfulness.  This was due to the existence of certain key elements.  But the application of that policy to Reetha, Emmanuel, Danahar, Sakinat and Ewa was unlawful from start to finish.

The courage shown by these families in the face of the spectre of removal from the UK is remarkable.  The dignified way in which they fought for redress should send a clear signal that asylum seekers may be vulnerable but are not helpless.  They must be treated with the same level of respect accorded to everyone else.

As the Coalition prevaricates in its attempts to end child detention, it must ensure that the interests of the child lie at bedrock of its alternatives.   Jim Duffy, Public Interest Lawyers

Rushed deportations are not the answer to family detention

The New Statesman reports on a BBC investigation that government pilots involving 113 families in London and the North-West had given families with children just two weeks to voluntarily leave the country. Two families who refused to comply were taken into detention and deported shortly after and two families accepted voluntary re-settlement packages. Significantly only 3 of the 113 families involved in the pilot ceased contact with the authorities or disappeared – emphasising the extremely low probability of such families absconding.

As Samira Shackle writes, the real problem is that as a consequence of cuts to legal aid and the closure of specialist providers of legal support to refugees and asylum seekers, ‘the vast majority of people seeking asylum are not given anything resembling a fair hearing’. That appears to be of no concern to the Home Office as it prepares new tough compliance controls involving separately detaining one or other parent in order to force the family onto a flight, electronic tagging, and ‘non-detained’ accommodation new Heathrow Airport from which one assumes it will be difficult to escape.

What the BBC report fails to point out, however, is that following the coalition government’s announcement that ‘the moral outrage’ of child detention was to end, 37 children have been held in immigration detention between 1st June and 4th October according to the UKBA’s own figures.

It would appear that only the Deputy Prime Minister finds the continued incarceration of children by his Home Office colleagues disturbing. With the talk of  ‘ending child detention’ shifting to Damian Green’s increasing reference to ‘minimizing detention’ – a practice the Home Secretary staunchly defended in the High Court only a week ago –  it is not surprising to hear Dame Pauline Neville-Jones say that ‘I trust that we will not be in a situation in which children are detained for any length of period at all; but certainly if they were, education would be a very important factor’. In other words, we may well need to keep open Yarl’s Wood.

So much for the Deputy Prime Minister’s promise to end child detention for good. The UKBA are trying to soften up the Clegg/Huhn wing of the government for a predictable ‘there is no alternative to detention’ conclusion to yet another flawed pilot. This  ill-thought out scheme has everything to do with ramping up the removal figures and nothing to do with allowing parents and children a fair hearing from a genuinely impartial justice system. It is good to hear the Children’s Society voicing its opposition to this despicable attack on vulnerable children and their families. We now need to see all the charities and NGOs who were persuaded to join the government’s flawed and cynical review to follow suit and publicly distance themselves from its punitive and dangerous consequences.

The Today report can be heard on BBC iplayer [about 50 minutes in].

Child refugees discuss their experiences on Woman’s Hour

Three teenagers who came to Britain as child refugees discuss their experiences on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, 17/08/2010. You can listen to the interviews here:

In celebration of ordinary lives

Shining a light on refugee children’s experience

By Anthony Robinson

Say the word ‘refugee’ to yourself. Without thinking, what images and notions enter your mind?

Now, think about it.

The last Saturday of Refugee Week 2010 was an important day in the lives of four refugee children and their families – a celebration of childhood regained.

We have told their stories in a series of books for children, the Refugee Diaries. At the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, these children’s lives were celebrated. This was a marker for them and all those who have supported and cheered them on – a day to celebrate the longed-for ordinariness of their lives.

My wife, Annemarie Young, and I took this proposal to the publishers Frances Lincoln for two reasons. We wanted to present these children as just that, children. Admittedly, children who through force of circumstance had been caught up in whatever horrors led them to flee their own countries. And make no mistake, all these children fled the threat of brutality and possible death at home, and hardship on the road to hoped-for freedom, on a scale we can only imagine.

And we were driven by our belief in the need to counter the negative stereotypes, misinformation and all too often hysterical and cheap politicisation, so prevalent in parts of the media.

Refugees turn up on our doorstep because they are desperate. They come for a life without persecution. And for the lives and futures of their children. They do what we would do. Can you imagine, even for one moment, what it is like for a mother to grab her only child and head out into the night with nothing except the clothes on her back? And what it feels like to have, ‘We’ll be back for you’ ringing in her ears, delivered by the men who were dragging her husband off? I can’t, but this was the reality for Mohammed’s mother. They come with the thinnest hope. They come begging for refuge. They come because there is nowhere else to go.

Refugees throw themselves on our mercy and we all too often find ourselves lacking. We share a humanity and this needs to be manifest in our response to them. Locking them up, along with their children all too often, denying them basic rights, vilifying them and frequently sending them back to god knows what, is not our humanity manifest. This is not a political problem, it is a human one. It is attendant on us, who so often chide and lecture other governments on human rights, to put our marker down. If we do not do this, how seriously are those ‘other’ regimes round the world likely to take our humanist finger wagging?

Preserving and presenting their stories has been our way of shining a light on the dignity and worth of these children, a dignity that their histories might have denied them.

People ask me how I ‘did’ the children’s voices so well. And how I presented the horrors visited on them in such a ‘low key’ way. The truth of the matter is that the children did it. How this happened was my journey. Hand in hand with the children, we told their stories. All I had to do was become invisible, to be a conduit for them. It is sometimes a writer’s job to take the ‘I’ out of the process.

It was their voices I wanted to transcribe onto the page. The recordings and notes – phrases marked, the unsaids, the listening and re-listening – all informed the process. But it was their voices that moved the hand that wrote the words that told the story. This was the aim of the Refugee Diaries. Read these stories and if you are moved, if you have a different notion of what it is to be a refugee, or even of what it is to be a child, then they have been successful.

Hats off to the four children, Gervelie, Mohammed, Hamzat and Meltem (in absentia) who had a wonderful day in the spotlight, but spare a thought for the ones who did not, or will not make it to celebrate the glorious ordinariness of life.

Anthony Robinson, Cambridge, 21 July 2010

Author of the Refugee Diaries series for children, published by Frances Lincoln: Gervelie’s Journey, Mohammed’s Journey, Hamzat’s Journey. Meltem’s Journey is published on 10 August.

Rethinking Ayslum

Colin Firth
Re-posted from OpenDemocracy 15 July 2010

As the Coalition government reappraises how the UK treats those who seek sanctuary within its borders, OurKingdom publishes an article by actor Colin Firth based on his submission to the Home Office Review into Ending the Detention of Children for Immigration Purposes.

Last month, at a Citizens UK event in London, the new immigration minister Damian Green appeared to reject the views of extremist politicians, saying he believes many asylum seekers are genuine refugees deserving of our help, that CO. I hope these principles will inform his decisions during the current review into ending child detention for immigration purposes, and that we are moving towards a humane and evidence-based asylum system.

We have a long way to go.

While this review takes place attempts are being made to remove asylum seekers to war zones in Iraq, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.

Most of these people will have been denied the opportunity to obtain the necessary proofs of their case. Their initial interviews — 17 pages in English — based on a series of questions eliciting the narrative in a non-consecutive way, may confuse the applicant. Interpretation is often inadequate. Dialects may differ. Several cases have been delayed because the individuals making the decision found the initial interviewer’s writing illegible. (One such example was reported to the Southampton MP Alan Whitehead).

The previous government cut legal aid provision to 5 hours:  lawyers insist that cases require at least 18 hours to process. In hearings the presumption is often made that the person(s) concerned are lying. Attempts are made to trip them up by reference to the first interview, when they were bewildered and frightened.

Many women seeking asylum have been raped. Despite strong evidence that women do not disclose sexual violence to a male stranger, especially in front of male relatives, this is frequently the situation they find themselves in at their initial asylum interview. When, later, they disclose rape and sexual violence, they are disbelieved.

Adjudicators rarely treat the appellant with respect. Decisions are made by people who may lack understanding of in-country conditions, under pressure to achieve targets that the UKBA’s own inspector calls ‘unachievable’.

As Thomas Hammarberg, the Human Rights Commissioner for the Council of Europe said in his stinging rebuke of UK asylum policy two years ago: “celerity and quality of decision-making in the complex field of refugee law and protection are rarely a matching pair.”

Hammarberg also strongly opposed “the UK practice of aliens’ forced returns on the basis of diplomatic assurances which are inherently flawed since they are usually sought from countries with long-standing, proven records of torture and ill-treatment.”

Indeed it is hard to see the government’s logic in sending vulnerable Somalis to Mogadishu, the capital of a failed state, the world’s most violent city and a place too unsafe to have a working British Embassy.

“If we must return families to such countries,” said Chris Mullin MP, “we should take some interest in what happens to them after they have disembarked. That might involve putting some money in their pockets, employing an NGO to see them safely through the airport and back to where they came from, and perhaps a little help with reintegrating.”

Reintegration was not an issue for Adam Osman Mohammed, 32, a failed asylum-seeker returned to Darfur under a UK government repatriation scheme. Just days after arriving in his village, in full sight of his wife and four-year-old son, he was gunned down by Sudanese security officers.

Adam’s return was not a unique and terrible mistake. In April of this year Amnesty International accused Britain (along with a number of other European countries) of forcibly repatriating Iraqis to “extremely dangerous” parts of the country — in breach of United Nations guidelines.

Damian Green rightly recognised there is a need for “a general review of the asylum system … to ensure that decisions are right first time”.

But “right first time” decisions are less likely than ever since the government’s decision last month to let Refugee & Migrant Justice fail, depriving many thousands of asylum-seekers of decent legal representation. In a last ditch appeal to the government to save RMJ, the largest specialist national provider of legal representation to asylum seekers and other vulnerable migrants, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, warned: “Lives will be put at risk and there are likely to be many more miscarriages of justice – which are already common in our asylum system.”

Bishop John Packer said: “It is hard to see how any government or society with a concern for justice could allow it to cease its work.”

Lord McNally’s reassurance that the government was “giving high priority”to minimising the “disruption” in allocating the 10,000-plus cases previously managed by RMJ, is not borne out by reports from the field. There, chaos rules.

It should go without saying that the separation of parents and children must be specifically prohibited in the new arrangements for asylum-seeking families. Separation would be contrary both to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 22 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as Section 55 of the Border, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009.

Since the 1950s, when John Bowlby began to examine the impact of maternal separation on young children, our society’s whole approach to the needs of the child has been predicated on the importance of avoiding maternal / parental separation especially at times of stress when children are more vulnerable to harm (for example when they are sick or in hospital).

Yet, in spite of the clearly recorded vulnerability of child refugees and asylum seekers, (who as a consequence of being asylum seekers are likely to be experiencing material poverty, poor quality housing, discrimination, poor diets and problematic access to health and social care services), the UK Border Agency has had few qualms about separating young asylum seekers and refugees from their parents.

In his February 2010 follow up report to, The arrest and detention of children subject to immigration control, the then Children’s Commissioner for England Sir Al Aynsley-Green said: “Separating young children from their parents – even for a short time during transportation (to detention centres) – is potentially extremely damaging and should only be used in the most extreme circumstances.”

He goes on:

We have received at least three reports in which children – even very young children – have been separated from their parent when initially taken from home to the local enforcement office . . . This has the potential to be extremely damaging to the child who may not have the capacity to understand when or how they will be reunited with their parent. We have documentary evidence of the effects of this on one small child and it makes very uncomfortable reading.

It is unconscionable that our government would choose as an alternative to detention the planned and deliberate separation of a baby, child or young person from his or her parents.

Regular reporting is a cheap and effective alternative to detention. Other options could include a close link with a social worker or with a member of an approved NGO. I welcome the pilot scheme that was launched in Glasgow and which saw asylum families housed in former council flats, under a partnership between the council, the Scottish government and the UKBA. But I remain concerned that evaluation of this scheme focuses on its ability to secure higher return rates and not on the well being of the children and families concerned. David Wood of the UKBA admitted to the Home Affairs Select Committee last year that families are very unlikely to abscond:

Whilst issues are raised about absconding, that is not our biggest issue. It does happen but it is not terribly easy for a family unit to abscond.

All the evidence points to the fact that higher rates of compliance with voluntary returns will be achieved only if families who have fled danger to seek sanctuary here are permitted to dwell in the community while their cases are being considered, and are supported and kept informed of the progress of their case by dedicated case managers.

I agree with the report from Ian Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice that excellent, available legal advice, the trustworthiness of the workers they have contact with, and support — not destitution — are the conditions most likely to achieve the voluntary returns the government is seeking.

Any civilised nation should respond this way to those who seek sanctuary. Families who are to be returned should be treated with dignity and respect; they are, in the words of the Bishop of Southwark, not worthless scroungers to be despised but, “men and women who are anxious and frightened and trying to keep body and soul together in a strange land.”

I call on the government to end the immigration detention of children and to adopt more humane alternatives that recognise the rights of all children to be treated with dignity and respect. Families should never be left destitute. Central to any fair and just alternative would be community-based access to housing, food, clothing, health and social care, alongside good quality legal representation.

The lack of understanding around asylum seekers, and the climate of suspicion so easily stirred up by media and politicians, has seeped into the culture of the legal system and the enforcement process.

We need to elevate the human and civil rights status of innocent asylum seekers to at least the level we accord our criminals.

Colin Firth is an actor and activist and co-founder of Brightwide — the website for social and political cinema. With thanks to Clare Sambrook, Esme Madill, Simon Parker, Professor John Mellor, Dennis Cook and Dr Shirley Firth.

Don’t replace child detention with enforced separation

New immigration plans will end child detention but we should be wary of substituting one form of state abuse with another.

Simon Parker, Comment is Free, The Guardian, Friday 28 May 2010.soas-carnival-logo

The announcement in Tuesday’s Queen’s speech that along with a cap on non-EU immigration, the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat government no longer intends to detain children under immigration control powers comes as a welcome boost to the many thousands of concerned citizens who have signed petitions, lobbied their MPs and parliamentary candidates, written to the local and national press, and organised vigils and demonstrations in order to bring this shameful practice to an end.

However, before we begin any premature celebrations, there are some troubling aspects of the new coalition agreement that deserve especially careful scrutiny. The first point is that Nick Clegg and his team rightly sought to insist that the declaration would commit to ending the detention of families, but the Conservatives struck this out and insisted that the no-detention policy would apply only to children.

Damian Green also declared that while the review was underway, the existing policy of detaining children would remain in place, despite the fact that the government now appears to accept that the practice of detaining children is harmful and unwarranted. The shocking case of the arrest and detention of Sehar Shahbaz and her eight-month-old baby in Dungavel and their nine-hour journey in a prison van to Yarl’s Wood, which Colin Firth highlighted in a letter to the Guardian, if anything suggests a hardening of minds rather than the “changed mindset” that Sir Al Aynsley Green has called for in the Home Office.

Indeed, an Iranian family of five, including the pregnant mother, were arrested and detained on the day it was announced child detention was due to end – and were issued with removal instructions to a brutal regime whose response to political dissent involves torture, lengthy jail sentences and state execution.

Campaigners should at least take heart that the review is about to start soon and that it is expected to conclude within weeks rather than months. But as yet there is no commitment to a timetable for implementing any alternatives to detention, or a promise not to arrest and detain families in the meantime.

A major concern for refugee, asylum and children’s welfare organisations is the clear implication that by agreeing only to spare children from detention, the Home Office is considering the option of taking children into care while their parents are detained. This would be to substitute one form of state child abuse with another, and would not only be contrary to article 8 of the European convention on human rights, it would be opposed, one would hope, by every local safeguarding children board and director of social services in the country – not least because it would make social workers complicit in damaging rather than protecting the welfare of the child.

As advocates of the end to child immigration detention, Clegg and Chris Huhne are in a powerful position to insist that their pledge to release children from their detention nightmare does not give way to the equally abusive cruelty of enforced separation. Opponents of child and family detention will be taking their demands to No 10 Downing Street on Saturday 5 June as part of the Release Carnival, which starts in Torrington Square at midday. I look forward to seeing many of you there.

Former Children’s Commissioner calls for fundamental change in culture and mindset of government over child detention

The first Children’s Commissioner for England, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, writing in The Guardian, calls on the government to release the families from Britain’s asylum prisons now.

Aynsley-Green who has done more than any single person to expose the arrest and detention of innocent children, the injustices and sheer horror of their lived experiences, urges: ‘a fundamental change in the culture and mindset of the government, its ministers, its civil servants and its contractors so that the welfare and best interests of children are put first, before the administrative convenience of government.’

This is his first published article since leaving his post as Children’s Commissioner in February 2010.

Nothing in my 30 years’ experience of being a children’s doctor prepared me for my first visit to Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre (IRC) in 2005, soon after becoming children’s commissioner. Using the power given to me by parliament to enter any premises other than a child’s home to interview any child, I asked to be treated as a newly arrested child and to follow their journey through the prison.

I saw a bewildered 10-year-old, smartly dressed in his school uniform alongside his distraught mother – they had been snatched from their home in a “dawn raid”. He asked if his friends knew where he was, worried about his belongings, and didn’t understand what had happened to him, even though I was told he would be deported the next day.

I passed through barred and locked doors where even babies had their nappies searched by prison-like officers, keys a-jangling; withdrawn and deeply traumatised children clinging to their mothers, refusing to eat the unhealthy food provided, with developmental regression, bed-wetting and soiling; mothers struggling to maintain breast feeding; inadequate play and schooling – the litany of human misery was endless. I was appalled and resolved that children seeking refuge would be an immediate priority for my new organisation.

We studied the “journeys” of children seeking asylum – the screening process where unaccompanied children’s claims for asylum were assessed; the process of age determination, including the use of X-rays; the experiences of young people in the care of a local authority, and, through subsequent visits to Yarl’s Wood IRC, the process of arrest, detention and deportation of families, many of whose children were born in the UK, and were well integrated into schools and local communities.

We published rigorous reports of our findings, and exposed to media and parliamentary attention the truth of the appalling life experiences of these children.

Much that is good has now happened – the joint report by the medical Royal Colleges confirming the physical and psychological damage caused by detention; the removal by government of its reservation to article 22 of the UN convention on the rights of the child, thereby giving asylum-seeking children the same rights as British children; the duty of care on statutory bodies to promote the welfare of children; the improvements in the physical environment in Yarl’s Wood IRC; and now, the announcement last week by Damian Green, the new minister for asylum and immigration, of a review to end the detention of children.

But there is unfinished business.

We need a fundamental change in the culture and mindset of the government, its ministers, its civil servants and its contractors so that the welfare and best interests of children are put first, before the administrative convenience of government. A speedy end to the detention of children. The promised “review” should not be an excuse for civil service prevarication. The evidence of harm is overwhelming and for a country that takes pride in safeguarding its children, it is indefensible, and frankly shameful, to force a small group of them into detention where their welfare is known to be at risk. They should be released now. The Local Children’s Safeguarding Board in Bedfordshire is currently investigating serious allegations of sexually harmful behaviour and safeguarding failures in Yarl’s Wood exposed by my most recent report. The full results must be published quickly.

We must know more of what happens to those children deported to their parents’ countries of origin. Are they safe, are they well and are they being cared for?

We need urgent research to establish an ethically sound approach to the assessment of age of individuals who claim to be a child but who have no papers to prove it. Exposing children to radiation (X-rays) for immigration control without medical benefit to them is unethical and, where a child cannot give informed consent, potentially unlawful. The Labour government’s commitment not to use X-rays, extracted under pressure, must prevail.

There must be full public and evidence-based debate about the ethics of using new medical technology – such as DNA analysis – for administrative purposes to assess paternity and country of origin.

The government must monitor the impact of financial cuts to local authorities on the welfare of unaccompanied minors (children who have no parent to look after them) who already are often poorly served.

These are all challenges for the new government and I urge that they are taken seriously. I welcome the news that alternatives to the detention of children will be reviewed. Much remains to be done to show that the UK is seen internationally to be an example of best practice. Will the new coalition government rise to the challenge?

Let’s make sure they really do end child detention now

If they mean the immediate closure of Yarl’s Wood, that should be a cause for great rejoicing. This is why we must hold them to it

By Clare Sambrook (from OpenDemocracy, 12 May 2010).

‘We will end the detention of children for immigration purposes,’ says today’s coalition agreement. A stunning victory for children, decency and the Liberal Democrats if this pledge proves good. That may be a very big if.

Days before the election David Cameron offered to set up a ‘working party’ including charities to ‘review child detention’. What’s to review? NHS paediatricians and psychologists Lorek et al six months ago found that children at Yarl’s Wood were ‘clearly vulnerable, marginalized, and at risk of mental and physical harm as a result of state sanctioned neglect (inadequate care and protection), and possibly abuse in the sense of exposure to violence within the detention facilities themselves.’ The Children’s Commissioner Sir Al Aynsley Green, himself an eminent paediatrician working from irresistible evidence of harm, called repeatedly on the Labour government over years to stop detaining children.

To borrow Australian psychiatrist Professor Patrick McGorry’s description of his own country’s detention centres, ours too are ‘factories for producing mental illness’.

‘We will end the detention of children for immigration purposes.’ They better had. And quickly too. Arrest and detention causes children swift and lasting damaging, rendering them confused, fearful, unable to sleep, according to Lorek et al. Children suffer headaches, tummy pains and weight loss and exhibit severe emotional and behavioural problems.

Dr Frank Arnold, a torture scars expert who cares for detainees said today, ‘If for any reason the government delays or reneges on this promise I would like to invite the immigration minister to join me in examining a willing family in detention for them to learn first hand the harm that continuing detention is doing to people.’

Delay or prevarication over this policy which has no proper purpose — a UK Border Agency executive let slip last year that the Agency knows families don’t abscond but persists in detaining them anyway because it’s a deterrent — will invite rising pressure on the government and on the corporations that profit from this shameful business.

Yesterday Dr Arnold put a question to Chris Hyman the Pentecostal Christian who races Formula 3 Ferraris and trousers £4,325 every day running Serco, the security giant that runs Yarl’s Wood detention centre for profit.

At the company’s annual meeting at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, Dr Arnold said:

‘Serco is expanding its activities in Healthcare to include NHS hospital management, polyclinics and GP services. At the same time, the company is receiving serious criticism and reputational harm because of its role in the incarceration of children at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Detention Centre under contract to the UK Border Agency. As the Chief Inspector of Prisons and Children’s Champion have publicly insisted, it is not possible to lock up children (who have done no wrong) without harming them. Will the board agree to take legal steps to obtain release from its contracts with UK BA over administrative detention to improve the company’s reputation?’

Hyman, who chairs the Prince of Wales’s charity In Kind Direct, said Serco had made improvements not required by its government contract, including a new school building at Yarl’s Wood — called Hummingbird House — and cooking facilities where families may prepare ‘culturally appropriate meals’. Hyman invited Arnold to see for himself.

Arnold, a regular visitor to detention centres, said:

‘Many of these children suffer neglect of serious medical conditions, both physical and psychological which are frequently made worse by their imprisonment. Examples include children detained while in sickle crisis, continuing detention in ignorance of a vital central venous feeding line in place, failure to provide immunisation and malaria prophylaxis when due, weight loss, behavioural regression, onset or deterioration of pre-existing PTSD and depression, and suicidal behaviour. All of these failures of care have been documented by clinical experts and in parliament and the media.’

Arnold went on:

‘Serco are contracted to manage people in detention but also, through Serco healthcare, to certify them as fit for detention. This is an insoluble conflict of interest and must cease. However prettily you paint the walls, these children are still imprisoned, dealing with the traumas of dawn raids and being locked up. The administrative detention of children is simply too harmful to be accepted in a civilised society.’

If the immediate closure of Yarl’s Wood is what is meant by, ‘We will end the detention of children for immigration purposes,’ then that is cause for rejoicing and huge thanks to Nick Clegg. But not yet. We must hold them to it.

Get Behind the Sanctuary Pledge!

End Child Detention Now is urging all its supporters to get behind the inspiring Citizens for Sanctuary prospective parliamentary candidate pledge campaign which is especially emphasising the scandalous detention of children by the UK immigration authorities. Dozens of PPCs have signed up to the pledge – but many more have yet to declare their support.

You can check the list of candidates who have pledged so far by clicking here.

This is why we need you to contact candidates in your constituency and to urge them to join the pledge. You can find a list of the candidates in your constituency by visiting the your next mp website. If a particular candidate has not signed the pledge email or call them to ask them why – the your next mp site provides contact details in most cases. Let us know what the candidates say or even if they decline to comment by dropping us a line at

So far the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, and Respect have committed themselves as political parties to end child detention (other parties are invited to join this list by emailing us). However, the two largest parties in the previous parliament, Labour and the Conservatives have not given such an assurance, which is why it is so important to find out the views of individual candidates.

End Child Detention Now has no political affiliations but we know we speak for many thousands of voters in demanding that immigration gulags such as Dungavel, Yarl’s Wood and Tinsley House should be shut down. People are dying in detention centres and threatening to take their own lives – how can we call ourselves a civilised democracy when our government abuses human rights on a daily basis?

If your sitting MP condones this misery then send them packing, and if their would be replacements won’t commit to ending child detention please don’t give them your vote either.

This is our greatest chance to return a parliament that upholds the principle of refuge and that all children’s rights are for all children. Together with our friends and fellow campaigners let’s pledge to end child detention now!

Beverley Naidoo calls for an end to child detention in the pages of Nursery World

It’s not usual to have five-year-olds and 15-year-olds in the same storytelling workshop. But there was nothing usual about the event that illustrator Karin Littlewood and I ran last December for imprisoned children. They were behind bars, not for committing some horrible crime but because they were asylum-seekers, and because we live in a society that forgets it has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – a society that is forgetting human decency.

Our aim that day in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre was to offer such a good time that these young minds would temporarily fly beyond the barbed wire-topped fences, locked doors and gates. For a short while, Karin and I too might almost have forgottten where we were. It was the five-year-olds, two brothers, who reminded us. Avoiding eye contact, even when persuaded to help hold a long reel of paper for a story-drawing, these little boys told us through their body language and silent faces that they were traumatised.

All these children had experienced the terror of a dawn raid by the UK Border Agency and forced removal to detention-cum-prison. Some 2,000 children are put through this ordeal every year, even though families don’t abscond. As Dave Wood of the UK Border Agency let slip in evidence last year to a parliamentary committee, ‘it is not terribly easy for a family unit to abscond’.

So why does our Government continue to lock up children in conditions known to harm their mental and physical health? With an election coming up, few politicians want to risk being seen as ‘soft’ on asylum seekers.

But the medical profession has taken the lead in calling for the immediate end to child detention. Many children’s authors have spoken out strongly, and I call upon early years professionals to take action. My friends at End Child Detention Now can help you. Contact them at, which also has links to the public petition and the doctors’ petition. And hold your parliamentary candidates to account.

A pdf of the article can be found here.

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)