BRUTAL attacks on African migrant workers in the southern Italian town of Rosarno in recent days prompted the Pope to make a rare comment on contemporary events. Condemning the racial discrimination against and exploitation of immigrants in Italy, Pope Benedict XVI said, ‘Every migrant is a human being different because of provenance, culture and tradition but a person to be respected and having rights.’
But even in Italy, where the unashamedly xenophobic and racist Northern League enjoys widespread support, the President of the Lower House of Parliament, Gianfranco Fini whose party has its roots in neo-fascism, has proposed that migrants be allowed to vote in local elections, that migrants’ children born in Italy should have the automatic right to citizenship, and that the waiting period for adult citizenship be shortened.
By way of contrast, children who have been born in Britain and who know no other country than this one can be arrested in dawn raids by a dozen uniformed security guards, transported in locked vans for hundreds of miles (in some cases without either of their parents present), forcibly photographed and finger-printed, allowed only to take the few possessions permitted, and locked-up without time limit in a high-security prison surrounded by electric fences and razor wire.
Campaign supporters gathered outside St Martin le Grand Church in the centre of York just before New Year to protest the detention of children in immigration removal centres over Christmas and to call for an end to all detention of children by the UK immigration authorities.
The government’s Border Agency imprisons between 1,000 and 2,000 children each year many for several weeks despite opposition from the Children’s Commissioner, several Royal Colleges of Medicine and over 100 MPs from all political parties. There is overwhelming evidence that detention is harmful to the health and well being of children, while the Home Office admits that families are very unlikely to abscond when removal directions are issued.
Campaign organiser Esme Madill said: ‘We know of several York families whose children were detained at Yarl’s Wood and who are still fearful of being taken to “the camp” again despite the fact that their case for asylum was subsequently upheld and that they have been granted leave to remain’.
‘No other civilised country treats vulnerable children in this way and we are determined to make 2010 the year when the government’s commitment to respect the rights of the child is genuinely upheld by closing these dreadful children’s prisons once and for all’.
Re-posted from Ekklesia 4 December 2009
The police were called on the patron saint of children and the imprisoned today, as he tried to deliver Christmas gifts to children at a detention centre. The inspiration for the modern day Father Christmas, St Nicholas of Myra, was turned away at the gate of the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire when he tried to deliver presents to the children locked up inside for administrative purposes.
Jolly Old St Nick brought with him £300 worth of gifts donated by several London churches for the estimated 35 children currently detained. Dressed in a red robe, long white beard, and a bishop’s mitre and crook, and accompanied by the Rev Professor Nicholas Sagovsky, Canon Theologian at Westminster Abbey, they hoped to spread some St Nicholastide cheer among the children of migrants detained there. The atmosphere became rather less jolly when the Home Office authorities who run Yarl’s Wood refused permission for St Nicholas to enter the Centre to distribute the gifts to the children. Despite the authorities having agreed to accept the gifts, St Nicholas was met at the gates by a group of unidentified security guards who barred his entry and ordered him to leave the area. They later called the police as St Nicholas blessed the gifts.
On Wednesday 2 December the Scottish Parliament held a business debate on the detention of children at Dungavel immigration removal centre. The debate, sponsored by SNP MSP Sandra White (Glasgow) revealed an unprecedented cross-party consensus against detaining children in immigration removal centres such as Dungavel.
However, the progress the Scottish government thought it had made in halting the detention of children in Scotland has proved somewhat illusory. As Sandra White told the chamber:
Last year’s commitment to limit the detention of children in Scotland to a maximum of 72 hours appeared at the time to be a step forward. Unfortunately, the measure has simply resulted in children being taken from their homes to Dungavel, held for the maximum 72 hours and then transferred to Yarl’s Wood in England after that period has expired.
This is a cynical manipulation of the Home Office’s undertaking to the Scottish government to limit the detention of children and a shocking indictment of the UKBA’s claim that children’s welfare is paramount. As Sandra White continued:
The lip service that has been paid to the agreement and the way in which the Home Office is getting round the commitment that it made is shameful and totally unacceptable.
By Simon Parker
In a report released today the Home Affairs Select Committee expressed a number of concerns about the detention of children in the UK immigration system but failed to acknowledge that the detention of children for any length of time is abusive and harmful to their well being. In the first part of its report the Committee declares:
‘..it must be remembered that Yarl’s Wood remains essentially a prison…while we accept that conditions have improved, we still regret that such a facility is needed in the first place’.
Unfortunately the committee’s regret that the UKBA runs child prisons did not extend to recommending that the Home Office stop locking children up in them.
‘We are…willing to accept the detention of families and small children provided that this is for short periods of time which ideally are defined in advance, and when this is the very final stage in the immigration removal process’.
It is astonishing that the Select Committee could ignore the very clear advice from the Children’s Commissioner, Sir Al Aynsley Green that,
‘…depriving children of their liberty and detaining them for administrative convenience is never likely to be in their best interests and should be ended’
while they completely ignored the only peer reviewed medical research into Yarl’s Wood that showed that even short periods of detention are damaging to children’s physical and mental health.
This has been a momentous week for the end child detention campaign with the No10 petition recording its 2,000th name – one for every child arrested and locked up by the UK Borders Agency just because they or their parents have dared to claim asylum and refused to be returned to countries the Home Office declares to be “safe” such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Somalia, Zimbabwe and the Congo.