Category: Tinsley House

Mind the Gap! Coalition claims and realities for child detention in the UK

Clare Sambrook

(This article originally appeared in openDemocracy on 31 December 2010)

When Nick Clegg announced two weeks ago, ‘Today marks a big culture shift within our immigration system,’ I was struck by a vivid image of horses struggling to push carts. A big culture shift is exactly what is needed at the Home Office, but there is no sign of its happening any time soon.

The Deputy Prime Minister was speaking to a Citizens UK rally in London on December 16th. He claimed, ‘We are setting out, for the first time, how we are ending the detention of children for immigration purposes . . . That practice, the practice we inherited, ends here.’

But it didn’t end there, as shown by the evidence gathered by the campaign End Child Detention Now and set out in this dossier, which can also be opened as a PDF. The Government’s December commitments do not end child detention; they repackage it. No longer will children be locked up at Yarl’s Wood. They’ll be locked up instead at Tinsley House, until May 2011. Thereafter they’ll be locked up in . . . wait for it: ‘family friendly secure pre-departure accommodation’.

As if the horse / cart conundrum were symptomatic of a deeper neurological problem within Government, a Home Office press release billed the plans as a ‘new compassionate approach to family returns’.

It’s true that the returns process lacks compassion. The bigger problem is the automatic disbelief that too often greets asylum seekers from their first moment of arrival. That is compounded by the shrinking availability of legal advice that might protect them (and the system) from sloppy decision-making. Compassion might be a stretch for some at the UK Border Agency. A proper respect for evidence would be a start.

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