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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com
(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?
The invisible child detainees – Prison Inspectorate reveals neglect of children in short term holding facilities
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons has recently published a review of the last six years’ inspections of short-term holding facilities. These facilities are intended to hold people detained for immigration purposes for short periods of time before or after arrival in the UK, and those awaiting transportation to long-term places of detention. One of the main criteria for assessing the effects of short-term holding facilities is safety:
Are detainees held in safety, with due regard to the insecurity of their position? In the case of children, the answer appears to be overwhelmingly no.
The review found that during the detention process
- insufficient attention was given to ensuring the dignity of detainees
- the use of handcuffs by immigration staff still prevalent
- one centre recorded how a mother had been handcuffed during the journey there, despite the fact she was accompanied by her two young children
The use of unnecessary restraints can cause significant mental harm, particularly to children, and the review highlights the urgent need for UKBA and its contractors to establish a more stringent policy regarding their usage when dealing with potentially vulnerable people.
The majority of short-term holding facilities are not designed for long-term or overnight stays, and are without the most basic amenities. The review found that detention for over 12 hours was common, with many people being held for over 24 hours in non-residential facilities, without washing or sleeping facilities. Foil blankets, it was reported, were often the only means of keeping warm during these long periods of time.
These findings are particularly harrowing when considering the treatment of children.
As recently as 2010, an inspection of the Terminal 5 holding room at Heathrow Airport found that 68 children had been held in the preceding four months, 10 of whom had been detained for over 18 hours, with the longest detention recorded as 25 hours.
In addition to the long periods of time kept in holding, many facilities were found to be in urgent need of repair, whilst others were small and cramped, and sometimes exceeded maximum capacity. In these conditions, it was found that there was often no way to hold children and families separately, requiring staff to place children with unrelated adults:
There had been an incident when a man had harassed an unaccompanied 15-year-old girl and another young woman. Staff had challenged the man but had been unable to separate him or the young people for more than a few minutes as there was nowhere else to put them.
(Heathrow Terminal 3, 2007)
As this review highlights, the duty of care required of those operating short-term holding facilities was not being sufficiently met, particularly in the context of child detention. Whilst the facilities themselves often result in cramped conditions, with few options for separation of unrelated detainees, the holding of vulnerable children for undetermined periods of time without residential requirements is an infringement of those basic human rights that we often take for granted.
It is also entirely contrary to the coalition government’s promise to end the immigration detention of children, which the Deputy Prime Minister repeated to loud fanfare in December of last year.
Campaigners against the opening of new family detention facilities which are to be jointly provided by the global security and prisons corporation G4S and the UK children’s charity Barnardo’s have announced a BARNADO’S TELETHON for Tuesday 26 April 2011.
London NoBorders are urging opponents of Barnardo’s involvement in the brand new detention facility at Pease Pottage in Sussex, which has the capacity to detain in excess of 1,400 people per year, to call their nearest Barnardo’s regional office on Tuesday 26th April to protest against the charity’s involvement in the detention and deportation industry.
Below are the contact numbers for all the Barnardo’s regional offices:
London and South East 020 8551 0011
South West 0117 937 5500
Yorkshire 0113 393 3200
Midlands 0121 550 5271
North West 0151 488 1100
Scotland 0131 334 9893
Wales 0292 049 3387
North East 0191 240 4800
Northern Ireland 0289 067 2366
For more info about the pre-departure accommodation see:
The most recent update on the Coalition Government’s promises to end child immigration detention is provided by a letter from David Wood of the UK Border Agency. It gives more specific details regarding the pre-departure accommodation, with which the UKBA plans to replace the current child detention facilities of Tinsley House. The title ‘pre-departure accommodation’ does little to deflect from the fact that the proposed site, near the West Sussex village of Pease Pottage, and currently in use as a semi-residential school for children with learning difficulties and behavioural issues, will be used to detain children and families.
It is planned that the new facility will be managed by Arora Hotels, owners of the subsidiary company that runs the existing school. Interestingly, it has been reported that no open procurement tendering process has taken place, which would seem to run contrary to both UK and EU legislation. A planning application has already been submitted by the UKBA and, despite assurances in the statement that consultation would be held with the local community, residents in the immediate area were informed of the plans little more than a week before the application was submitted.
In addition, the UKBA has sought to restrict access to the details of the application, sending a letter to the planning authorities which states – “It would be helpful if it could be kept separately from the main Planning Register which the Department of Communities and Local Government has suggested you might establish by means of paragraphs 24 and 25 of the Memorandum to DCLG Circular 02/2006 Crown Application of the Planning acts. Any arrangements adopted should be designed to give the maximum protection possible to this information consistent with authorities’ statutory obligations.” This memorandum refers to ‘sensitive planning applications’ where secrecy is in the ‘national interest’, although this seems inappropriate for the proposals and contrary to the Coalition’s stated aim to encourage a shift towards openness and transparency in the immigration system.
Quite apart from the planning application process, the proposals raise serious concerns. The unit is intended to be secure, which in this case means a 2.5m palisade fence with electronic gates surrounding the site, and 24-hour staffing designed to provide “an appropriate level of security to protect the occupants of the site and deter them leaving the site.” There will apparently be provision for children to be allowed to leave the facility, but this would be under supervision, for short periods, and subject to a ‘risk-assessment’. In other words, there are no guarantees that any detainee will be allowed to leave the facility, except to catch the plane that will be used for their enforced removal. If the maximum stay of 72 hours is actually respected, then it is unsure whether applications for leave (for a trip to the cinema, as suggested by the UKBA) will have time for a risk-assessment to be conducted before the credits are rolling. If the only opportunity that occupants of this new ‘pre-departure accommodation’ will have to leave the site requires application to a system which carries so many caveats, is this really an alternative to detention, or just alternative terminology?
Of course, a maximum stay of 72 hours (which is the disingenuous claim made by the ‘consultation letter’ sent to residents near Pease Pottage) could easily turn into a week, or 28 days in ‘exceptional circumstances’, as noted by the UKBA document “Open Accommodation: Accommodating Families Outside of Detention”. Given past examples of families and children being detained for up to 190 days, it is doubtful whether detainees will not end up being held for extended periods of time, although they will no longer have access to schooling since the already inadequate provisions that were available at Yarl’s Wood and Tinsley House will not be provided within this short-stay accommodation.
It may seem that the Coalition Government is trying hard to strike a balance between ending child detention and remaining ‘tough on immigration’, but these ‘alternatives’ to detention are themselves unnecessary and inhumane. Families with children are amongst the very least likely of asylum seekers to abscond, as Mr. Wood himself told the Home Affairs Select Committee in November last year. Other countries have found more humane arrangements to accommodate families together in the community while they await decisions on their applications or arrangements for their removal. In reality, the Coalition is not striking a balance, but reneging on their pledge to end the practice of child detention.
 Available here http://18.104.22.168/pap_msdclive/framepage.asp?dc2=&appnumber=11/00330/COU under ‘Planning Statement’
 Available here http://22.214.171.124/pap_msdclive/framepage.asp?dc2=&appnumber=11/00330/COU under ‘UKBA letter’
 Available here http://126.96.36.199/pap_msdclive/framepage.asp?dc2=&appnumber=11/00330/COU under ‘Planning Statement’
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
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
‘Much of the delay in concluding asylum and other immigration cases stems from poor quality decision-making when the application is initially considered,’ says Keith Vaz, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee whose latest report on the UK Border Agency’s work is published today.
Two cheers for Vaz and the HASC! It might be three if only they were clearer and more forceful in their criticism of an agency whose deficiencies are systemic and rooted in a culture characterised by denial and deceit.
The automatic disbelief that greets asylum seekers from their first moment of arrival, coupled with a shocking disregard for human rights, compounded by the lack of legal services that might check official incompetence have created a Kafkaesque nightmare for vulnerable people who come to these shores seeking sanctuary.
‘More consistent and rigorous scrutiny of applications would lead to fewer delays, fewer appeals, less uncertainty for the applicant, less pressure on the officials themselves, and probably lower costs for the UK taxpayer,’ says Vaz, noting mildly that this ‘is also likely to require more consistent and considered direction from those setting policy for the Agency than has sometimes been the case’.
The MPs ‘lack confidence’ in the Border Agency’s effectiveness in ‘making sure that its contractors provide adequate training and supervision of their employees in respect of the use of force,’ and add: ‘This is a fundamental responsibility of the Agency and is not simply a matter of clauses in contracts or formal procedural requirements.’
But Vaz and his colleagues must be aware that the failings go far deeper than that. Last March, when Dame Nuala O’Loan, investigating allegations that contractors’ staff had roughed up asylum seekers, found ‘inadequate management of the use of force by the private sector companies’ and made 22 recommendations for change, UKBA chief executive Lin Homer did something quite extraordinary. She attacked the doctors and lawyers who had brought the abuses to light, for ‘seeking to damage the reputation of our contractors’.
Homer, who has just left the Border Agency for the Department of Transport, does not escape today’s report unscathed. The MPs note her failure over months to complete an audit of the way UKBA implements (or rather fails to implement) the rule requiring that torture survivors, children and people with serious medical and psychiatric conditions should be detained only ‘under very exceptional circumstances’.
They remark that Homer has left unresolved their running complaint about the quality and the level of UKBA’s response to MPs’ letters on constituents’ behalf. They note that her £208,000-a-year salary exceeded that of the Prime Minister and the Permanent Secretary of the Home Office and say her successor should receive significantly less.
But today’s report does not touch upon the coincidence of Homer’s tenure with five years of Home Office misrepresentation and denial of the medical evidence that detention harms children, nor does it challenge or even probe the increasingly cosy relations between civil servants and the commercial contractors who run the detention estate.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s data on mandarins who lunch, Homer enjoyed two dinners with Serco in 2007, and tucked away a ‘contract review dinner’ in 2008, courtesy of Raytheon, master of the e-borders programme and leader of the big security companies’ club, the Trusted Borders Cabal, oops! — Consortium.
Homer lunched with former Home Secretary John Reid in September 2009 when he was a backbencher doubling up as a £50,000-a-year consultant to G4S, the company that runs UKBA’s Tinsley House immigration removal centre — where the very next month a distressed 10-year-old detainee tried to strangle herself. (Tinsley House is where the government plans to hold children now that it has purportedly ‘ended’ child detention.)
Last April, on the cusp of a general election that might have made a government uneasy with the idea of locking up innocent children for no good reason, the Border Agency nonetheless extended Serco’s £900,000-a-month contract to run Yarl’s Wood detention centre until April 2013. The extension is worth £32 million. Yarl’s Wood closed its doors to families in December.
For years UKBA has got away with abusing its power against some of the most vulnerable people imaginable. More boldness and greater clarity from the Home Affairs Select Committee is urgently required if the UK Border Agency is to feel pressure to change.
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].
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.