Official lying in the UK: what child detention reveals about how we are governed

Anthony Barnett, This article originally appeared in openDemocracy on 21 November 2011

About the author
Anthony Barnett is the founder of openDemocracy and the Co-Editor of its UK section, Our Kingdom.

For almost two years OurKingdom has been exposing the gap between official rhetoric and practice in the UK government’s appalling treatment of the vulnerable children of asylum seekers.

Today we present a disturbing new dossier by OurKingdom Co-Editor, the award-winning author Clare Sambrook — Official lying and how it harms our democracy (which can be opened as a PDF).

The dossier arose in response to an invitation from the House of Lords Communications Committee. The peers invited Clare to give live evidence on 11th October for their current inquiry into the future of investigative journalism. This dossier is being submitted to the committee today as an additional briefing paper.

 

The peers asked: what are the threats to journalism? Sambrook answers: the biggest threat to journalism and our democracy is official lying, and here is a narrow but deep sample of the way that officials communicate. “If the systematic mendacity recorded here is representative of the way government functions,” says Sambrook, “then our democracy is in serious trouble.”

Also giving evidence the same day was Ian Hislop. He helped the peers understand some basic distinctions, for example that hacking is not investigative journalism. He also made a striking point, for me at least, when asked to define investigative journalism. In part, he answered, it is saying the same true thing again and again and again and again until the penny drops. It is not just that Private Eye runs a story, its influence comes from repeating it over and over again.

There is an important lesson here. What matters is not revealing something that is wrong. The ice soon closes over. What matters – and what of course costs time and money – is continuous, informed, accurate repetition so that exposé of the wrongdoing will not go away. Hackgate can be seen as a classic vindication of this analysis. It did not just explode with the Milly Dowler revelation. Had the Guardian, or any other paper, run that story out of the blue, there would have been shock but no other consequences, certainly not the closure of the News of the World and the Levenson Inquiry.  Without Nick Davies’s (who gave evidence alongside Sambrook) utterly dedicated (for years ignored) persistence and the Guardian’s commitment to him, there would have been no explosion.

This led me to reflect on the impact of Clare Sambrook’s coverage of child detention. It was backed by a campaign: just over two years ago Clare and five friends working unpaid and unfunded launched End Child Detention Now. OurKingdom was able to open its doors and let the campaign publish repeatedly and at will. We didn’t say, “Oh, we have already ‘covered’ that”. And boy did Clare and her ECDN colleagues invest their time.  In the process OurKingdom learnt how to combine ‘investigative comment’ with openness. I had not fully understood the importance of repetition as part of effective exposure.

Just how much work this means you can see for yourself, in the brief sample of Sambrook articles listed below. (The entire ECDN press campaign published so far is here). Now Sambrook’s dossier on official mendacity takes the argument a step further. For in the intense, relentless process of exposing the scandal of child detention another perhaps even greater scandal emerges. The British state and its civil service, which presents itself as an honest public service, is suborned. There is a clear pattern of persistent official lying used in defence of the punitive practice of arresting and detaining asylum-seeking families.

It is very important to understand that we are not talking about politicians being ‘economical with the truth’, or being misleading or downright lying — which everyone expects. It is not a matter of broken promises made on the stump to win votes. Clare Sambrook exposes repeated and systematic cover-up by officials, by civil servants employed by the taxpayer, of reputable medical evidence that children were being harmed. In the dossier she highlights attempts by officials to mislead ministers about the significance of safeguarding failures in a case of alleged child sex abuse at Yarl’s Wood, the UK Border Agency’s notorious Bedfordshire detention centre.

Urging a restoration of respect for information, Sambrook writes: “The role of government and local government press officers should be to serve the public with truth, not to serve ministers by spinning to the public.” To achieve this she suggests that “every press release and public statement issued by officials should be signed off by an official who takes responsibility for the accuracy of the information. It should be forbidden for civil servants to mislead Parliament or its committees, just as ministers are forbidden from so doing.”

The issue could hardly be more important if there is to be any trust in government.

At one point in the Committee hearings, committee chairman Lord Inglewood asked Ian Hislop and Alan Rusbridger: “Do you think there is masses of scandals out there that just never get revealed at all?” Hislop replied: “There is plenty that nobody knows anything about. Every time something turns up, I do not know about you, I say, ‘Good grief, I didn’t know that’.” I felt everyone in the room was reflecting on their secrets, little and perhaps not so little, for who knows? Baroness Fookes chipped in: “Like the perfect murder, we do not know about it.”

Indeed. But how much more perfect is it for everyone to know that the truth is being murdered while neither preventing nor reporting it.

A look back through the OurKingdom archive of Sambrook’s journalism that is grounded in her work with the pro bono citizens’ campaign End Child Detention Now:

January, 2010: In Roll calls, body searches and sex games, what Parliament isn’t being told about children’s lives inside a UK detention centre, Sambrook exposed official efforts to undermine medical evidence that children being locked up for administrative convenience were suffering lasting psychological harm.

March 2010: She exposed the practice of classifying vulnerable unaccompanied children as adults (thus denying them the care and protection that is due to minors) in Take one traumatised child, classify as ‘adult’, arrest, lock up, and bundle onto plane, bound for danger.

April 2010: In Surveillance + detention = £Billions: How Labour’s friends are ‘securing your world’, Sambrook examined the commercial outsourcing companies running the “detention estate”.

While in opposition, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg had called Labour’s policy of arresting and detaining asylum seeking families “state sponsored cruelty”, and his party made ending child detention a manifesto promise. The coalition agreement included the unqualified assertion: “We will end child detention”. But instead of ending detention, the Coalition government ordered a “review of the alternatives” which excluded the very obvious alternative of not detaining children. To run this review it appointed, not a person of proven independence, but the UK Border Agency’s own Dave Wood, director of criminality and detention, and a staunch defender of the detention policy who had gone so far as to undermine peer reviewed medical evidence of harm to children in a misleading memo to Parliament.

15 December 2010: The Review of alternatives was to climax in a pre-Christmas Mission Accomplished-style speech from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. On the eve of Clegg’s announcement, Sambrook’s dossier Five years of denial: the UK government’s reckless pursuit of a punitive asylum policy — never mind the evidence of harm was published — and distributed to reporters — explicitly to encourage scepticism ahead of the fanfare.

The next day Nick Clegg duly proclaimed: “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.

As on 31 December 2010: Sambrook and End Child Detention Now demonstrated in Mind the Gap! Coalition claims and realities for child detention in the UK.

February 2011: Among the Coalition’s claims made soon after its formation and frequently repeated was that no child would be detained at Christmas 2010. And no child was, claimed the UK Border Agency as late as 10 January 2011. That wasn’t true either. A Freedom of Information request revealed that the Border Agency had indeed locked up an 11 year old girl in a detention centre on Christmas Day. “This story betrays UK Border Agency incompetence and contempt for democratic process, proving yet again that it is not fit to be entrusted with children’s care,” wrote Sambrook in these pages.

In July 2011, more than a year after the government promised to end child detention, we published Sambrook’s Frisk the 5-year-old: the UK Government’s new compassionate approach to child detention, revealing how a 5 year old, wrongly listed as a “visitor” to a UKBA detention facility at a Heathrow Airport detention facility and thus not recorded as a detainee, was subjected to a “rub down search” by a custody officer saying, “You’re a big boy now, so I have to search you.”

The government’s newest detention facility, “Cedars” in Pease Pottage, near Gatwick, freshly rebranded as “family friendly pre-departure accommodation” opened this past September. According to the Home Office this marked completion of  “The final stage in the government’s pledge to end the detention of children for immigration purposes”.

Last week, on 15 November, in the House of Commons Nick Clegg faced this question from Labour MP Lisa Nandy:

“Last year, the Deputy Prime Minister, speaking in a professional capacity, set out how he would end child detention by May. It is now November. Does he still believe this practice is immoral and does he still plan to keep his promise? If so, will he tell the House when?”

Mr Clegg replied, “Compared with the previous Government’s record of thousands of young people being detained—yes, immorally—behind bars when they were entirely innocent, the new arrangements are a complete, humane, liberal revolution, of which I am very proud indeed.”

The work goes on.

 

STAR Conference In STOP! Child Detention plea

Delegates at the STAR (Student Action for Refugees) Conference which took place in London this weekend (19-20 November 2011) organised ‘a simple act’ of protest against the continuing detention of children in support of the End Child Detention Now Campaign (below). Student activists dressed as crossing patrol attendants in demanding that the government STOP! the detention of children for immigration purposes, which despite Nick Clegg’s promise to end this ‘state sponsored cruelty’, has been re-instituted through the opening of so-called ‘pre-departure accommodation’ for families with children in the Sussex village of Pease Pottage where they can be detained repeatedly for up to a week.

STOP! Child Detention

The nationwide network of student groups is celebrating its 17th annual conference this weekend with representatives from 34 universities and several refugee support organisations and NGOs.

Delegates heard speeches from many figures who work to help and support refugees across the UK and took part in workshops on subjects such as volunteering, campaigning and running events to protecting refugee and migrant rights and raising funds.

Details of the conference can be found here. If you are a student and would like to find out more about STAR please visit the national website for more details.

The Pinocchio Protocol

with thanks to Martin Rowson

The auction raised £350 for End Child Detention Now’s fundraising appeal. Donations are still welcome by cheque made out to “Shpresa Programme” (please mark ECDN on the back of the cheque) and addressed to Shpresa, Mansfield House, 30 Avenons Road, Plaistow, E13 8HT.

Pictured Dr Nick Lessof (left)  collecting ‘The Pinocchio Protocol’ from Martin Rowson at a venue in central London which looks suspiciously like a pub.

In Nick Clegg’s fantasy world, child detention in the UK has ended

ESMÉ MADILL & SIMON PARKER, THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN OPENDEMOCRACY ON 27 SEPTEMBER 2011

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told his fellow Liberal Democrats at the party’s conference in Birmingham to “hold your heads up and look our critics squarely in the eye”.

Among the many things that Liberal Democrats can be proud of when squaring up to their critics, Clegg told delegates, was that child detention has “ended”.

Michael Moore, the Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Scotland, was a little more circumspect. Borrowing — perhaps inadvertently — from Star Trek, he declared: “We have ended child detention as we know it.”

In a similar vein, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesman, Tom Brake, writing in the Guardian last month, rejected Natasha Walter’s charge that the government had reneged on its “we will end child detention” coalition pledge (Walter said detention was “making a comeback”), but Brake admitted:

The planned new centre at Pease Pottage does have “a locked environment for … families “…This will only be for up to 72 hours, in the rare cases where a family refuses to leave the country voluntarily, and children will be allowed out of the centre after a risk assessment and with proper supervision.

‘The Cedars’ pre-departure accommodation at Pease Pottage, we are reassured by Barnardo’s chief executive Anne Marie Carrie, “has ambitions to be fundamentally different” from notorious immigration detention centres like Dungavel and Yarl’s Wood. We can be sure of that because the 29 Barnardo’s staff who will be supervising the child detainees have been told they must seek to “safeguard children and treat families and children with compassion”.

Pease Pottage is certainly ‘safe’ and well–guarded, boasting locked accommodation behind a high perimeter fence with security staff on duty 24 hours a day. In order to ensure their safety, children will be ‘compassionately’ searched on arrival according to ‘the Cedars’ operating manual.

Fingers-crossed, the children won’t enquire about the discretely locked cupboards accessible only to security staff that contain ‘suicide prevention kits’, (anti-ligature knifes are recommended by HM Inspector of Prisons). Care staff and security guards will carry swipe cards at all times to enable them to pass between the detainees’ rooms and the controlled areas of the facility. In keeping with a ‘family feel’ environment, security staff will have access to all areas at all times. Visitors, on the other hand, will be restricted to the visitors’ lounge to which detainees will be escorted and returned by G4S guards.

G4S is a global security company with a multi-billion pound turnover, which specialises in managing prisons, detention centres and escorting prisoners and detainees. A recent Chief Inspector of Prisons report found that G4S escorts showed “a shamefully unprofessional and derogatory attitude”, and used unnecessary force and racist language. G4S employees, until recently, included the three men arrested in the case of Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan deportee, who died on a British Airways plane in October last year while being ‘removed’ by G4S. Other passengers described how Mubenga was forcibly restrained as he complained he could not breathe.

G4S also manages the contract for Tinsley House near Gatwick Airport where two years ago a 10-year-old Nigerian girl was found strangling herself with the cord of an electric kettle. The expensively refurbished Tinsley House will continue to detain children in so-called ‘border turn around’ cases or where the parent or guardian is being deported following completion of a prison sentence or because they are considered too dangerous or disruptive to be held in the ‘family friendly’ accommodation at Pease Pottage.

The Liberal Democrat election manifesto pledged to do so much more than ending child detention. Asylum seekers would be permitted to work, “saving taxpayers’ money and allowing them the dignity of earning their living”. And there was the promised amnesty for “people who have been in Britain for 10 years, speak English, have a clean record and want to live here long term to earn their citizenship”.

All these pledges have come to nothing. But luckily Clegg can look us squarely in the eye because “child detention has ended”.

While Moore, Brake and Clegg may be able to spot the difference in the child detention we knew — the one that Clegg labelled “shameful” less than a year ago in his December speech to London Citizens — and the rebadged, rebranded, repackaged ‘pre departure accommodation’ at Pease Pottage, can anyone else?

It’s your truth Nick – but not as the rest of us know it.

Selling the state: the ‘unethical’ companies taking over UK public services

TOM SANDERSON, THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN OPENDEMOCRACY ON 26 SEPTEMBER 2011.

The companies managing UK immigration have come in for criticism once again, in new research — ‘Is that what you call good service?’ — by pressure group Ethical Consumer.

The report scrutinises the environmental and ethical records of twenty of the companies now profiting from the privatisation of public services — including health, education, care and justice — and rates them among the UK’s most unethical. Companies entrusted with the care of asylum seekers, including unaccompanied minors and families with young children, are among the very worst.

While the research takes into account a wide range of criteria from factory farming to tax evasion, some of the categories are of particular relevance to assessing a company’s suitability to hold a duty of care over vulnerable persons. G4S and Serco, who dominate UK immigration escorting and detention, have the lowest possible rating for the ‘human rights’ category, contributing to their being placed in the very bottom rungs of the report’s ethical table.

Another significant category is ‘political activity’, where Ethical Consumer finds a “corporate culture of widespread lobbying to gain access to Whitehall power-brokers, donations to political parties and a revolving-door policy of former government ministers heading straight into jobs with some of the companies surveyed.” G4S and Serco scored the worst possible rating for this category.

G4S runs several immigration detention facilities, including the newly opened and euphemistically named ‘pre-departure accommodation’ incarcerating families and children. Ethical Consumer’s report is the latest in a long line of damning criticisms of the company and its practices, including two separate reports published in July by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, and Amnesty International. Last year an assessment of safety conditions at Brook House, one of the G4S centres, showed ‘the worst ever results’.

Given the numerous accounts in these reports of policy breaches, inadequately trained staff and both physical and mental damage caused to detainees while in the care of G4S — not to mention the death of Jimmy Mubenga after ‘restraint’ by G4S last year — it is unsurprising that the company scored so poorly with regard to human rights.

With regards to ‘political activity’, G4S pays £50,000 a year to former defence secretary John Reid MP (now Lord Reid) for ‘strategic advice’, an appointment made mere months before G4S were able to secure a lucrative four year MoD contract and while Reid was still a serving MP.

For its part, Serco has been criticised many times for the conditions at Yarl’s Wood detention centre which led to repeated hunger strikes by detainees, as well as recent condemnation of conditions at Colnbrook centre near Heathrow Airport.

That responsibility for caring for those in administrative detention — including children and vulnerable adults — is in the hands of such companies is a long-standing scandal. The government’s rapid acceleration in its abrogation of responsibility in favour of companies that fail so spectacularly to meet ethical standards will soon touch all our lives.

‘Barnardo’s! Please quit the child detention business’

Alida Alisis, this article originally appeared in openDemocracy on 8 August 2011.

Back in March, almost a year after the government had promised to end what Nick Clegg called the “shameful practice” of locking up asylum seeking families in conditions known to harm their mental health, Barnardo’s stunned children’s advocates by revealing that it had agreed to work with the UK Border Agency and security giant G4S at the new immigration detention centre for families with children at Pease Pottage near Gatwick that’s opening later this Summer.

Frances Webber, vice chair of the Institute of Race Relations, accused Barnardo’s — Britain’s biggest children’s charity — of providing “a cloak of legitimacy to the continued detention of children”. Former children’s commissioner for England and internationally renowned paediatrican Sir Al Aynsley-Green wrote in OurKingdom that this “worrying development” sparked the question: “are the big children’s organisations effective advocates for children, or are they friends of government?

Stung by such criticism Barnardo’s chief executive Anne Marie Carrie last month made comments widely reported as a tough-talking “ultimatum” to UKBA, saying the charity would pull out of the working partnership if children and families were not treated properly. But can we trust Barnardo’s to stand up to the government?

We, being students and members of SOAS Detainee Support who visit immigration detainees and offer them support, have campaigned hard against child detention. In May last year we picketed G4S’s annual meeting, argued with the company’s chief executive Nick Buckles (who, by the way, is paid almost £5000 every day), and landed a picture in the Daily Telegraph’s city pages. In June last year, we ran the Release Carnival, bringing together campaigners and child refugees to march on Downing Street.

When this past March Barnardo’s threw in its lot with Nick Buckles and the UK Border Agency we felt utterly dismayed, let down, betrayed. When we visited Barnardo’s HQ at Barkingside in Essex to express our disappointment. We were sent away and told to study Barnardo’s website so we’d understand what they were doing. We read. It still looked wrong. We made a second visit, intending to distribute a leaflet outlining our objections to staff as they left work. Barnardo’s diverted workers to a rear exit.

Lately we’ve scrutinised Barnardo’s “ultimatum”. Here’s what we make of it.

Barnardo’s says:

Barnardo’s seeks to support the most vulnerable children. The families and children held in this accommodation are at their most vulnerable and desperately need our support.  Barnardo’s will always help the most vulnerable children in the UK and will work to ensure that asylum seekers are treated humanely throughout their time in the UK.

We say:

In May 2010 the coalition government pledged to end the detention of children for immigration purposes – finally recognising the lasting psychological harm it caused. Former Barnardo’s chief exec, Martin Narey, slammed the imprisonment of asylum-seeking families as “unnecessary” and “shameful”.  But another ConDem u-turn has meant child detention continues, simply rebranded as “family-friendly pre-departure accommodation”.

As many as 4,445 children could be jailed each year at de facto prisons run by G4S (who may face corporate manslaughter charges over the death of Jimmy Mubenga on a deportation flight). Barnardo’s involvement has already given this sham a fig leaf of legitimacy with councillors who granted planning permission at Pease Pottage reassured by Barnardo’s involvement.  Rather than offering a new face to the same agenda of abuse and degradation in immigration detention Barnardo’s should urge the government to keep its pledge and end child detention.

Barnardo’s says:

Under new immigration processes families will be given every opportunity and help to leave voluntarily. If they choose not to then an independent return panel, which includes child psychologists and medical experts, will oversee the most appropriate method of return and any specific safeguards which need to be in place.

We say:

The ‘independent’ return panel is to provide advice or offer amendments to UKBA on the method of removing the family from the UK. They do not decide the method of removal.  UKBA does not have to accept the Panel’s advised amendments. Disagreements will be referred to the immigration minister who will decide how to proceed.  Information given to the Panel is kept secret from the family who are unable to contest it even if the information given to the panel is wrong, out of date or fresh evidence has become available. The advice the Panel gives the UKBA is kept secret.  There is no built-in external scrutiny and the panel cannot be considered independent due to many members being UKBA and governmental staff.

Barnardo’s says (about the Government’s new immigration processes and UKBA’s pre-departure accommodation):

All this adds up to a system which has ambitions to be fundamentally different — which seeks to safeguard children and treat families and children with compassion.

That is why one of my first decisions as chief executive was to agree that Barnardo’s provides the welfare and social work services within the accommodation.

 We say:

But how can Barnardo’s talk of ‘a system which has ambitions to be fundamentally different — which seeks to safeguard children and treat families and children with compassion’ when the UK has lately lost its two largest providers of legal aid representation to migrants and asylum seekers and more reputable voices tell us tens of thousands of the most vulnerable in our society are at the mercy of the UK Border Agency’s arbitrary and often unlawful actions?

Barnardo’s says:

As a last resort, a short stay should include expert family support to ensure humane treatment.  Barnardo’s accepts that, as a last resort and after consideration by an independent panel, children and families may need to be kept in secure pre-departure accommodation for a very short period of time.  Barnardo’s wants to ensure that these families are treated humanely with respect and dignity, and are given the correct support through access to welfare and social work services ahead of their departure.  It is critical that families and children have someone to turn to during this extremely stressful and difficult time.                      

We say:

It is critical that, after an analysis of all the medical evidence, families and children are not detained at all. Barnardo’s saying they are making the situation better by being there is like someone agreeing to be a hangman because they can make the death less painful than another. The families detained will be those who — except in ‘exceptional circumstances’ — have not complied with any of the other attempts at removal. This might very well be because they are terrified to go back, and being locked up will be extremely frightening and traumatic. The presence of Barnardo’s will not ease this fear as long as they are still locked up and facing deportation.

Barnardo’s says:

We see an important part of our role as shedding light on the whole immigration process to ensure it supports those children within it. We are absolutely clear that if policy and practice fall short of safeguarding the welfare, dignity and respect of families, then Barnardo’s will raise concerns, will speak out and ultimately, if we have to, we will withdraw our services.

We say:

The “red-lines” set down by Barnardo’s are no use at all. The research (and common-sense!) shows that even one week in detention is long enough for a child to be severely affected.  As a children’s charity Barnardo’s should not help the UKBA detain and deport people, it should speak out against child detention FULL STOP.

We’re visiting Barnardo’s again today to ask them to stop spinning and start listening to and defending vulnerable children such as this child detainee quoted in the Medical Justice report State Sponsored Cruelty: “I am so scared of the Home Office. It is hard times for me and my mum. She would rather kill herself than go back.”

Australia sinks to new depths in terrorising would be asylum seekers

“Video of asylum seekers being loaded on to flights to Malaysia will be posted on facebook and Youtube as a scare tactic to frighten off other refugees from coming to Australia illegally on boats”, according to Sky News Australia.

“Every step of the 54 latest arrivals, picked up off the coast of Western Australia on Sunday, will be filmed and then immediately posted online”.

The Australian government’s crude attempt to terrorise would be asylum seekers from making the hazardous see crossing from Indonesia to Christmas Island is but a further example of the Gillard government’s increasingly inhumane approach to the treatment of undocumented migrants.

The Age newspaper reported that as many as 19 unaccompanied minors are due to be processed for deportation to Malaysia – one third of a contingent of 55 that had arrived by boat on Christmas Island since the ‘get tough’ policy had been announced.

To ensure that no passengers can escape their forcible removal to Malaysia, local riot police had been sent to the recently reopened Phosphate Hill detention centre in Western Australia along with a contingent of Royal Malaysian Police.

‘The United Nations’ children’s agency said it was extremely concerned unaccompanied minors may be deported from Christmas Island and called on Mr Bowen not to send them to Malaysia for processing’.

The Australian Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said the children should not be used as a deterrent for people smugglers. ”None of the 19 should be sent to a country where there are not guarantees that they will be protected from harm,” she said, saying the policy left a ”sick feeling in the stomach”.

Mid-Sussex migrant prison protest announced

Croydon No Borders are organising a demonstration against the opening of a new family immigration prison  (euphemistically referred to by the Home Office as  ‘pre-departure accommodation’) on Saturday 30th July, 1pm at Muster Green park, Hayward’s Heath.

Hayward’s Heath is where Mid Sussex District Council, the local authority which approved planning permission for the new asylum prison is based.

G4S who will be running escort and security services at the new prison is still under investigation for the alleged manslaughter of Angolan Jimmy Mubenga who died while being restrained by three escort officers on a flight from Heathrow in October 2010. This shocking case is also being investigated by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.

Meanwhile, G4s ‘corporate partner’ and ‘Play facilities’ provider at the prison will be children’s charity Barnado’s against whom an active campaign is running involving the disruption of fundraising events and the picketing of Barnado’s shops and head offices.

Saturday’s demonstration will also provide an opportunity to protest against the opening of a new high security child detention unit at the expensively refurbished Tinsley House near Gatwick Airport, and G4S’s ‘distressing and objectionable’ practice of arresting and forcibly escorting ‘reserve’ detainees to bundle on to deportation flights if the intended victims are unable to fly. See Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prison’s investigation of the G4S operation at Tinsley House reported in The Guardian 26 July 2011.

Please rememver to bring your banners, placards and instruments and demand an end to detention and deportation.

G4S Under Fire

Two new reports published last week contain damning criticisms of the immigration services provided by private security company G4S. We are nearing the completion of the new ‘pre-departure accommodation’ facility near Pease Pottage, and the commencement of detention for many more asylum seekers including children and families. In the meantime however, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons last week released reports following unannounced inspections of the short-term holding facilities in Heathrow Airport Terminals 3 and 4, noting several breaches of the regulations designed to minimise the impact of detention on children held there. In addition, the reports identified shortfalls in the standards of training undertaken by staff supplied by G4S, the company contracted by the UK Border Agency to manage the facilities.

According to the HMIP report, some staff were not CRB checked and they displayed inadequate knowledge of the referral process for identifying victims of human trafficking. During the inspection, one child was detained without the necessary authority and held in the room designated for adult detainees.

The five-year-old was subjected to a ‘rub-down search’ and forced to witness his father’s distress as G4S staff confiscated his mobile telephone, having neglected to offer him the free call he was entitled to. If it had not been for the intervention of inspectors, the child would not have been recorded as having been held at the facility, skewing the figures provided by G4S on both numbers and duration of child detentions. This is of course just one case which occurred during the HMIP visit, suggesting that such breaches of policy and inaccuracies in data may be common.

Lengthy detention of children appears to be routine at these holding facilities.  During the three month period examined, 176 children had been detained within the two holding rooms, 24 of these had been held for longer than 18 hours. This shows just how genuine the Coalition Government’s commitment to a ‘new compassionate approach to family returns’ is.

 

You can read Clare Sambrook’s review of the report published by openDemocracy here

And download both the full reports here

 

The second of last week’s reports came from Amnesty International and focused on the outsourcing of immigration enforcement functions, specifically those subcontracted to G4S. This report is comprehensive and unequivocal in its condemnation of G4S regarding their lack of effective training and policies governing the use of force. It makes a clear and compelling case against the current practices and documents many instances in which G4S personnel have been witnessed causing unnecessary harm. The deportees in the majority of the cases in the report appear to be young, relatively healthy males, although in our experience many of those who undergo enforced removal are women and children, who are often already suffering physical and mental health issues.

Amnesty’s report is a call for reform of the outsourced removals process that should be impossible to ignore. What must not be overlooked is the way in which it highlights the UKBA’s routine exposure of children to immense danger of physical and mental harm.

Since May this year, G4S no longer manage the enforcement of removals and deportations, having been replaced by another private security firm, Reliance Security, but they continue to manage immigration centres and will oversee the detention of families and children when the Pease Pottage ‘pre-departure accommodation’ opens in September. The professional standards witnessed by the authors of both these reports make that an extremely disturbing prospect.

Clare Sambrook’s take on the Amnesty report is available here

While Amnesty’s briefing paper can be accessed here

ECDN addresses Newham Refugee Week Festival

Shpresa celebrate Alabanian Summer Day during Newham Refugee Week Festival

I’d firstly like to thank the Shpresa Programme for inviting me to address you all today. My name is Tom Sanderson and I’m here to represent the campaign group End Child Detention Now.

To start with I’d like to tell you a bit about our campaign which began in 2009. Since then we have been working to put pressure on the UK government to stop placing children into immigration detention centres. We do not accept monetary donations from any organisation, although we are very happy to work with others who share our determination to bring an end to the imprisonment of children in the UK.

In this regard we have been very lucky to have been able to collaborate so often with the wonderful people at Shpresa. The insightful and moving video recorded and produced by Manuel has been such a useful campaign tool, and all the young people from the organisation who made the trip up to York to dance, to read poetry and generally made a huge contribution to making our own event during last year’s Refugee Week so engaging and vibrant.

And of course Lulji, Evis, Flutra and the entire Shpresa team have worked so tirelessly to support us in our campaign. Our deepest thanks go out to you all, you really have been invaluable to our cause.

So why are we so passionate about this issue?

Well, there have been many studies and reports which have confirmed the immense mental and often physical damage that children are subjected to when they are held in these detention centres, and there is actually quite a wide consensus that the practice breaches a raft of child rights.

We are by no means the only group that have been campaigning to end this, and there have been many statements denouncing the detention of children from high-profile figures, including doctors, lawyers and even members of parliament. Given the widespread opposition to the practice, it does seem surprising that nearly two years have passed, and in that time great effort has been expended by us and several other groups including Shpresa, and yet we still live in a country where a child can be effectively imprisoned not because of their actions, but simply because of the arbitrary lottery of nationality.

This is not to say there has been no progress. The family section of Yarl’s Wood detention centre has been closed, and the numbers of children detained have been significantly reduced. We have even had a promise from the current coalition government that they would bring an absolute end to what they themselves have referred to as a ‘scandal’ and a ‘moral outrage’.

So why, then, are we still campaigning?

Sadly, this promise has so far been largely empty. It seems especially empty in light of the new pre-departure accommodation facility currently being built not far away near the Sussex village of Pease Pottage. The site is scheduled to begin detaining families from the end of September, and as noted by Professor Heaven Crawley it can potentially accommodate nearly four and a half thousand children each year.

Although the new facility has been described by the UK Border Agency as family friendly, the site will still include a wire security fence over two metres high and CCTV cameras within apartments. Detainees will not be allowed to leave the site unless they make an application to do so and there is no obligation for the security staff to approve these.

In our view, this is still detention regardless of what they call it, and therefore children held there will be damaged in the same way as those that were detained in Yarl’s Wood and other removal centres.

The fact that the UK Border Agency has persuaded the charity Barnado’s to help them run the facilities there appears to have satisfied some groups that child detainees will not be harmed, and seems to have convinced them that the campaign has been won and that they – and we – should be satisfied with the compromise.

But we believe there can be no compromise when innocent children are still being victimised and mentally damaged by our own government. We are not ready to accept that this is the best that can be done, and go quietly back to our day jobs.

It is the detention itself which causes such damage to the children placed in it, and we doubt that it will make any difference to these frightened, confused, but blameless children whether some of the staff wear the uniform of a charity or that of a private security firm like G4S.

This company, are facing possible charges of corporate manslaughter after the death of deportee Jimmy Mubenga while being restrained by their staff during deportation. This company have now been chosen to play the role of ‘bad cop’ at the new detention centre.

In our view, this is still a scandal. It is still a moral outrage. So we will continue to fight against the ‘state-sponsored cruelty’ that persists despite the pledges made by our leaders in Westminster, for as long as it takes to truly bring it to an end, and we know that the Shpresa Programme will stand with us too. Thank you all.

 

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