Why is the government intent on breaking up these families?

10:33 am - April 23rd 2013

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by Sarah Campbell

Last month, The Telegraph enthusiastically publicised a new bid to ‘tackle the growing number of offenders using the “right to family life” laws to avoid deportation.’

Theresa May has now promised to introduce legislation to achieve the same end.

However, a report published last week by my organisation, Bail for Immigration Detainees, shows that the separation of families by immigration control can have extremely serious consequences for children’s welfare, and that single parents can be separated from their children after committing a relatively minor offence, or no offence at all.

We looked at the cases of 111 parents who were separated from 200 children. Many, but by no means all, of these parents had committed offences and served sentences. Parents were held in immigration detention without time limit, for an average of 270 days, and in some cases for over two years. The decision to detain them was not made by a judge, but by an immigration officer. In 92 out of 111 cases, parents were eventually released, their detention having served no purpose. 15 parents were removed or deported without their children.

Children were left without their detained or deported parent, sometimes in frankly appalling situations. In 85 out of 200 cases, children didn’t have another parent to take care of them and were in care. Many of the children in the study were born and grew up in the UK, and were British Citizens.

One girl was seven when her mother was detained for 173 days. One of her foster carers said:

At times Hana would sit by herself and break down and cry.

When you asked her what is the matter, she say “when is my Mum coming I want to go home with her.”

In one case, the Home Office deported a single father leaving his nine and 12 year old sons with his ex-girlfriend. They did not do anything to find out if the children’s care arrangement was safe.

12 of the 15 parents in this study who were removed or deported without their children had been convicted of non-violent offences including possessing false documents, and one parent was not convicted of any offence. In some cases, where parents did not have the right to work or claim benefits, they committed offences to buy food for themselves and their children.

It is difficult to imagine any other situation where children in the UK could be separated from their parent and have such scant attention paid to their welfare.

Sarah Campbell is Research and Policy Manager at Bail for Immigration Detainees

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Reader comments

It’s quite the mess, the biggest problem here probably being these long, ridiculous periods of detention as cases are worked through. More needs to be done to speed up the process of deportation for those here illegally with due care and attention given to those with sensitive family circumstances/dependants. Greater investment. Greater efficiency. The status quo satisfies nobody.

The sad thing is that most people remain completely unaware of the reality of the immigration system. Instead, they see the selected stories about immigrants which the press chooses to highlight (and exaggerate and distort with abandon, knowing these targets couldn’t possibly sue for libel), with Somalians with ten children being given massive houses for free, and a criminal being given leave to remain “just because he has a cat”. It’s not just the tabloids guilty of doing that, either.

If half the people angry about these highly publicised cases (and assuming they represented all cases) were aware what kind of inhumanity was being inflicted on the average genuine refugee as a result of politicians scrambling to appease their rage, a lot of them would probably be appalled.

3. Derek Hattons Tailor

“in 92 out of 111 cases parents were eventually released, their detention having served no purpose”

Firstly, what happened to the other 19, were they executed, detained for ever, or what ?

Secondly, the purpose of the detention was punishment. You can disagree with that, but it is a purpose.

4. Robin Levett

@DHT #3:

Secondly, the purpose of the detention was punishment. You can disagree with that, but it is a purpose.

Read the OP more carefully. This is immigration detention, following the serving of any sentence imposed for any original offence.

Punishment may indeed be a purpose, but if the immigration officers in question are misusing their powers of detention so as to accomplish that purpose, they are acting illegally. Under the English legal system, punishment only comes after an identifiable charge is laid, and the case is tried before a judge (and jury as appropriate). It isn’t imposed by the whim of a government functionary.

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