Immigration: the scandal of child detentions

10:20 am - December 12th 2009

by Septicisle    

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When Labour’s best political boast is now more or less that they won’t be as brutal as the Conservatives will, it’s well worth remembering how the government treats some of the most vulnerable in society.

Not content with having expanded the prison population to such an extent that as soon as a new wing or establishment is built it is almost immediately filled, it also seems hell-bent on continuing with the detention of those whose only crime is to be the children of asylum seekers who have had their application for refugee status rejected.

Not that the government itself has the guts to be personally responsible for their detention. Probably the most notorious detention centre in the country, Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire, is run by SERCO.

In the last report on Yarl’s Wood, the chief inspector of prisons Anne Owers noted (PDF) while Yarl’s Wood should seek to improve the “plight of children” who were being held in the centre, they were “ultimately issues” for the UK Border Agency.

That would be the same UK Border Agency where bonuses are being paid out, something defended by Phil Woolas, who claimed they were “risking their lives” in what they did.

Report after report and expert after expert has now condemned the continuing snatching of families at dawn and months of waiting in what are very slightly more friendly prisons.

The children’s commissioner Sir Al Aynsley-Green called for the “inhumane practice to end” a few months back; the home affairs select committee found that no one was able to give an exact figure on the number of children held in a year, while an overview of their welfare was also not available; and most damningly, the journal Child Abuse and Neglect, in a study which featured 24 children from Yarl’s Wood itself (PDF), found, unsurprisingly, that some were so stressed they had regressed to bedwetting and soiling during the day.

Anxiety and depression had developed or re-developed in others, as had post-traumatic stress disorder, while most worryingly sexualised behaviour had come to the fore in others. The Royal Colleges of General Practitioners, Paediatrics and Child Health, and Psychiatrists, and the UK Faculty of Public Health are now all calling for the practice to end.

The case of Child M is an extreme one, but illustrates the system at its very worst. An 9-year-old from Iran, he was first imprisoned along with the rest of his family in the summer of 2008, being held for 52 days before being released.

During his incarceration he had recurring nightmares, suffered from ringworm and his hair started to fall out. His family was detained again on the 17th of November, spending another three weeks in Yarl’s Wood under the threat of imminent deportation, with Child M again suffering from a deterioration in his mental health, before finally being released again on Tuesday.

It’s impossible to know whether this again is just a temporary reprieve, but for Child M to undergo such a traumatic experience at the hands of the state twice, when such detention is hardly ever truly necessary (asylum seekers generally don’t abscond, especially those with families) is unforgivable.

No one it seems however is prepared to stand up for children who have committed no crime.

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About the author
'Septicisle' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He mostly blogs, poorly, over at on politics and general media mendacity.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Equality ,Immigration ,Labour party ,Westminster

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Reader comments

Excellent piece – depressing as hell, but good. Touches on the most important point of all, as well, which is that there is no real point in Labour fighting on until it addresses some of its worst and most damaging policy failures.

The party’s soul is dead. Iraq, the recession, new ranks on the breadline, the indifference to children described in the above post have all taken their piece. By all means sling shit at the Tories, but this site benefits endlessly from this kind of post which doesn’t flinch from Labour’s human rights record.

Instead of castigating the ultimate disbeneficiaries of illegal immigration… ourselves…let’s point the accusing finger at the real culprits…those who drag their innocent children on a totally cynical expedition to enter, under a cloud of lies, a naively generous victim country such as this.

Completely genuine asylum seekers do not cross ten friendly countries on the way to ‘safety’ and they do not normally end up in detention.

O and merry Christmas to you too, Liberanos.

So – someone turns up in your country having been made desperate enough to leave theirs, and they inevitably get a fair hearing for asylum? I did some interviews a while back with a number of asylum seekers, and they seemed to think living unemployed on various rubbish tips here while waiting for their applications to be processed was eminently preferable to returning home to face the wrath of administrations they hadn’t always seen eye to eye with…

May I be the first on this thread to call you a cunt.

The victims of illegal immigration are illegal immigrants. We have put them into the hands of exploitation gangs that situation by criminalising movement. If illegal immigrants are criminals, show me a victim.

But regardless of whether or not you agree with that, the children of people here illegally are Innocents. That’s irrefutable. We (rightly) argued that terror suspects should not be imprisoned for more than 28 days. So why are we allowing this wretched government do far worse to Innocents, who aren’t even suspected of anything? It’s sick.

I have yet to see any politician asked this question: “should we be imprisoning children in immigration detention centres?” I went to a Meet Nick Clegg event in Oxford last month, and intended on asking him this very question, but didn’t get the chance. I’d love to see Cameron’s response to this: lets see how far down this new civil libertarian streak runs, and whether he means it when to says he’s a “compassionate” and “liberal” Conservative.

5. DisgustedOfTunbridgeWells

There’s no ‘UN Convention Relating to the Status of Asylum Seekers’.

I’m a big fan Septicisle, but you (and others) need to stop using the term ‘asylum seeker’ it’s right wing PC, no different to ‘enhanced interrogation’ or ‘low intensity warfare’. It’s designed to shift the emphasis on the more important factor of what refugees are fleeing, onto the less important factor of what they’re heading towards.

Anyways, on topic, BBC in rare ‘journalism’ shocker –

“Completely genuine asylum seekers do not cross ten friendly countries on the way to ’safety’ and they do not normally end up in detention.”

Completely genuine refugees don’t board the Kabul circular stopping in London, Paris, Madrid and Berlin, come back when you’ve been locked in the back of a few articulated lorries or cargo holds of planes and tell us all about the logistics of stopping in friendly countries.

One of Ian Rankin’s recent novels used asylum seekers and a detention centre as a plot feature. His fictional portrayal of existence in that system was very moving and no doubt touched more people than any piece in the Independent or Guardian.

I used to consider the British approach to asylum seekers with pride. The treatment of people was never perfect but it made me feel good that asylum in the UK was a better option than other countries. Perhaps some asylum seekers perceive that the UK is a good place to head for because they speak a little English, but I reckon that most are attracted by a country that will treat them with dignity and provide opportunity. We are a gloriously mongrel nation and the mixed cultural DNA is our advantage.

Thus the mere existence of detention centres dismays me. No dignity, no opportunity, distrust.

From a window at work, I can look on the Attenborough family home where Richard and David grew up alongside two German Jewish refugees. That vista gives me hope.

7. Colonel Richard Hindrance (Mrs) VC, DSO & Bar Six, KitKat

@Kate Belgrave re. Liberanos.

Absolutely. May I be the second?

Interestingly predictable responses, not all of them substituting childish name- calling for reasoned argument.

If one needs the reason for the continued necessity of these centres, look no further than these sadly naive views. To believe that all who call themselves asylum seekers are in need of asylum is crass beyond belief.

And what an insult to those who have no need to lie.

I’m trying to understand what your argument is, Liberanos. Are you saying that we should imprison the innocent children of failed asylum seekers to avoid insulting those who have been granted asylum?

Now we shouldn’t ignore that some asylum applications will be bogus. But similarly we also shouldn’t ignore the reasons that drive people to submit bogus asylum applications.

But whatever. Imprisoning innocent children is sick.

@Duncan Stott

You’re completely right. Imprisoning children is an abrogation of a basic human decency. My point is that exposing children to that possibility, by dragging them across the world in a knowing effort to deceive, their parents are equally deserving of blame.

Detention…bad, but not prison, not Wormwood Scrubs…is given to those who, after investigation have been found not to fulfil the conditions of asylum entry and who could safely be returned.

Removing their children from them would be wrong. Allowing them to stay would not only be equally wrong, it would be completely unfair to genuine victims. Their refusal to provide information of their country of origin leaves us no choice.

There are millions, perhaps billions, of people with a lower standard of living than ours and existing under deeply unpleasant governments.

When deciding merit, it is our painful duty to separate them from those whose very existence is under imminent and genuine threat.

Liberanos is right.

The children will suffer whatever happens.

While everyone else complains about this nobody has a solution other than to do nothing which creates a much bigger problem.

You can link to my article on this through twitter later today (same username)


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