End Child Detention has launched a national petition to Prime Minister Gordon Brown calling for an end of the scandal of children being held in detention centres. To sign the petition, simply visit the 10 Downing Street website HERE. The current issue of the JCWI bulletin, available for members free of charge, contains the following article about child detention. To join the JCWI, visit our website HERE.
Home Secretary Alan Johnson now has a statutory duty of care for children held in detention by UKBA immigration officials.
The Home Affairs Select Committee reported in November that still too many children were being held in detention for far too long. The chairman, Keith Vaz said: “These children have done nothing wrong. They should not be being punished.
“The Yarl’s Wood detention centre remains essentially a prison, and is no place for a child. It must always be absolutely the last resort to keep a child detained for any length of time. Families with children are not a high risk for absconding.”
During the first six months of this year a total of 470 children were being held in detention centres in the UK, with over 70 percent seeking asylum from countries like Zimbabwe, Somalia, Sudan and Sri Lanka.
In February this year one family was awarded £150,000 after the government admitted they were detained unlawfully and one of the children had suffered post traumatic stress disorder as a result.
The announcement of the new responsibilities for the Home Office in November this year follows the publication of a damning independent report exposing the appalling impact of detention.
The report, The Mental and Physical Health Difficulties of Children Held Within a British Immigration Centre, was the first of its kind and the results should make for very uncomfortable reading for Mr Johnson.
A team of paediatricians and a clinical psychologist studied a small group of 24 children aged between three months and 17 alongside their parent or carer between February and August 2006.
The children had been held for between 11 and 155 days and the medical professionals found significant evidence of stress and depression. Many of the parents exhibited severe psychological distress and many reported suicidal thoughts.
Helen, a detainee, told Bail for Immigrant Detainees (BID) the experience had a real impact on her one-year-old son. “He was a very happy child, but when we left detention the second time he just started withdrawing…He becomes aggressive. He wasn’t eating, he was that thin.”
The pilot study found such experiences were widespread in detention centres. All eleven children seen by the psychologist reported symptoms of depression and anxiety since being detained.
The children told of feeling disorientated, confused and frightened by their new environment. One child experienced the return of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder first brought on by his experiences of war.
Most of the 20 children who were seen by the paediatrician were also suffering physical symptoms including pains, headaches, coughing and vomiting after being held in detention.
A two-year-old child was admitted to hospital suffering pneumonia. Eight of the children in detention lost weight including a two year old and a nine year old who both lost more than 10 percent of their body weight.
There is currently no time limit on the detention of children and Home Office statistics show that one in three children are held for more than a month.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2008 concluded the UK government should “intensify its efforts to ensure that detention of asylum-seeking and migrant children is always used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time”.
The Children’s Society and BID have joined forces to campaign for an end to the detention of children for immigration purposes under the banner of OutCry! with funding from Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.
The OutCry! says the government’s use of detention is wholly disproportionate and there is no evidence that families are systematically at risk of absconding if they are not detained.
Amanda Shah, Assistant Director of Policy at BID said: “In our view the logical next step is for the government to immediately end the immigration detention of children and their families – a practice we believe to be a national scandal.”
For more information, visit: www.outcrycampaign.org.uk