Category: Nick Clegg

Keep Your Promise Campaign Launches

At a Conference in Birmingham today (Saturday 22 January), delegates from the Baptist Union, Methodist and United Reformed Churches will be asked to send postcards to Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg urging the coalition government to keep its promise on ending child detention.

The postcards were designed by the young people from Shpresa Programme, an Albanian Refugee Community Organisation in East London that has worked with ECDN to draw attention to the plight of children and young people in immigration detention.  The Keep Your Promise campaign is a result of Shpresa young people expressing their concern that while the government has promised to bring an end to child detention, children will continue to be detained at Tinsley House, near Gatwick, at least until May 2011.

The Baptist Union, Methodist Church and United Reformed Church together with ECDN believe that the current alternatives to detention proposed by the Deputy Prime Minister fall a long way short of the commitment that he gave in May 2010.  While welcoming the closure of the family detention facility at Yarl’s Wood, we are particularly concerned that children may continue to be detained with their parents prior to removal at a facility that has been condemned by several reports from Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons.

Esme Madill, campaign coordinator for End Child Detention Now said:

‘The Keep Your Promise campaign is a reminder that the coalition government continues to detain children and families despite Nick Clegg rightly describing the practice as a “moral outrage”. We are also concerned that the alternative system proposed for dealing with the removal of refused asylum seekers still allows for the arrest and detention of children and families at Tinsley House near Gatwick. We call upon the government to keep its promise by passing legislation to ban the practice of detaining families prior to removal and to transfer the consideration of asylum claims away from the UK Borders Agency to an expert independent body whose decisions will not be linked to arbitrarily imposed removal targets.’

Rosemary Kidd of the Baptist Union of Great Britain said:

‘Churches, along with other faith groups, students and community organisations, have been campaigning to end the detention of children for immigration purposes for a long time.  We hope that many people across the country will join in organising postcard writing events around the theme of Keep Your Promise to end
child detention now.’

If you or your organisation would like to send Keep Your Promise postcards please send an email to info@ecdn.org indicating the quantity your require (in multiples of 50) and we will let you know the value of the postage stamps you need to send and the address to send your request.

An end to child detention?: how a High Court judgement brings us closer

Simon Parker

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

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].

Family detention case reaches High Court

On Tuesday 26 October, a judicial review challenge to the Government’s family detention policy reaches the High Court in London. The Claimants – two single mothers and their young children – are seeking an order declaring the Government’s family detention policy unlawful. In May 2010, the Coalition Government announced that it would end the detention of children for immigration purposes, a practice that the Deputy Prime Minister described as “a moral outrage”.

Five months on, children continue to be held at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre for indeterminate periods in prison-like conditions, the Government’s plans having stalled and been watered down. Last February, Reetha Suppiah, Sakinat Bello and their children were arrested by UK Border Agency officers in dawn raids. They and their children were loaded into vans with caged windows and driven to Yarl’s Wood in a state of confusion and distress. Reetha and her two boys (aged 1 and 11) were detained for 17 days, whilst Sakinat and her two year-old daughter were held for 12 days before being released back into the community. Both families had been reporting regularly to the immigration authorities prior to their arrest. Upon arrival at Yarl’s Wood, all of the children became sick, suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting.

It appears that the welfare needs of the families were not properly taken into account or even assessed prior to the decision to detain, and the detention experience has had a profound effect upon them. Reetha’s eldest child was particularly badly affected and recalls seeing “policemen everywhere” in Yarl’s Wood. Since his release, he has lived in continuous fear of re-arrest. The families claim that their detention was unlawful and that it subjected them to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. They also allege breaches of the children’s rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Jim Duffy of Public Interest Lawyers said today: “Our clients’ experiences and the broad expert consensus point to a practice that is inhumane, destructive and unnecessary. Child detention has to end now.” The claim will be heard over three days from 26th until 28th October.

For further information please contact Public Interest Lawyers on 07912 691 727.

Child detention is ‘state sponsored cruelty’- report finds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letter to The Guardian about State Sponsored Cruelty

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

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

Kamena Dorling

Chief executive, Refugee Children’s Consortium

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

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

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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.

New Cameron Government Agrees to End Child Detention

In the early hours of this morning, Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister issued a statement in which as part of a Tory commitment to put a cap on immigration it was agreed to put an end to child detention immigration controls (the latter was a Lib Dem proposal).

End Child Detention Now believes that this important shift in policy has been won thanks to the amazing efforts of campaigners from several organisations and with the help of prominent writers, actors, doctors, refugee community groups, faith groups and parliamentarians from all parties who have kept up relentless pressure in the media and in local communities across the country.

However, this announcement is only the beginning of the final phase of our campaign. We must keep the pressure on the new government to end child detention now, and not just accept a commitment to ‘phase it out’ or or to retain it ‘only for the shortest possible time’.

The UKBA, Serco and G4S will be trying to keep the detention industry profitably arresting and imprisoning asylum-seeking families-so we need to hold Nick Clegg and David Cameron to their pledge and ensure that any sabotage operation fails.

Everyone who can get to London on Saturday June 5th is encouraged to take part in the Release Carnival which is gathering in Torrington Square at 12.00 and then converging on Downing Street with clowns, dancers, street performers and lots and lots of people!

Lets hold them to their pledge – shut down the immigration jails – END CHILD DETENTION NOW!

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LibDem Leader Nick Clegg tells PM: stop the scandal of children behind bars this Christmas.

Open letter to Gordon BrownNick_Clegg_1

Nick Clegg 15/12/09

Dear Gordon,

I am writing to urge you to stop the scandal of hundreds of very young children, including toddlers, spending this Christmas locked up behind bars in Immigration Centres in Britain.

One of the best ways to judge the moral compass of a nation is how we treat children – all children.
There is now concrete evidence that the very young children who find themselves locked up even though they’ve done nothing wrong are suffering weight loss, post traumatic stress disorder and long lasting mental distress.
How on earth can your Government justify what is in effect state sponsored cruelty?

Of course we must keep track of adults who are seeking asylum in this country, and deport them where justified. But this can be done through other means.
It is simply indefensible to do so at the cost of the mental and physical wellbeing of very young children.

I would also ask you to lift the paranoid Government secrecy which surrounds the work of the Immigration Centres. Your Government has consistently refused to provide total figures of the number of children detained.
This attempt to cover up such a morally reprehensible practice only makes matters worse.

The British people want us to take a world lead in the way we treat toddlers and children, not to inflict systematic cruelty on them behind a veil of Government secrecy.

I look forward to your urgent reply.

Yours

Nick

Read the full Daily Mail story by Jason Groves  here

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