10:20 am - December 12th 2009
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.
'Septicisle' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He mostly blogs, poorly, over at Septicisle.info 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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