The report published earlier this year by Medical Justice entitled ‘State Sponsored Cruelty’ : Children in immigration Detention was dismissed by a judge as biased and sensationalist largely because of its title; it was unclear how much of the report the judge had actually read. Looking into immigration detention of children and the coalition government’s commitment to end child detention, the title is not some critic trying to condemn the Government for its failings. It is a quote from the deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, as he described the practice of detaining children.
The reality of child detention
The Report which documents the physical and psychological harm caused by the detention of children is worth recalling. Of 141 cases studied:
- 92 children experienced a detrimental impact of their physical health
- 50 children received inadequate medical care
- 74 children were psychologically harmed, with symptoms including bet wetting, loss of bowel control, heightened anxiety and food refusal.
- 48 children witnessed violence in their detention centre – mostly during attempts to remove them, and
- 50 children were not given appropriate immunisation before attempted removal.
So, it is reassuring that the Coalition Government are committed to ending child detention. The real question however is how exactly are they going to achieve this? At a time when the Government is committed to reducing net immigration one might imagine that removals removals will be accelerated and increased.
The UKBA are currently running pilot projects which attempt to remove families without using detention. They already admit some families have been taken out of the pilot scheme to be detained; old habits die hard it would seem.
Medical Justice is very critical of these pilots which do not appear to based on a pre-planned strategy and appear to be made up on the hoof. UKBA claims that a proper pilot with project management would take between one and three years- time they do not have. It seems they are content not to properly investigate how to solve this problem.
The NGO sector as a whole has made the case for alternatives that include releasing all detained children immediately and devoting appropriate time to developing real alternatives including improvements on decision-making on family cases and access to quality legal advice and representation.
Perceived as a Liberal Democrat policy adopted by the Coalition Government, Medical Justice points to the change in LibDem wording regarding their pledge in relation to the detention of children. Writing in the Guardian in response to criticism of the Coalition‘s reluctance to abolish child detention, Tom Brake MP downgrades the promise of the manifesto to an “aim”. On the day the article was published, Mr Brake reported that there were no children being held in detention in the UK, which was indeed true. Within 24 hours there were two children in detention.
From detention centre to accommodation centre
There now exists an ‘accommodation centre’ in Croydon, south of London. Families being moved to the accommodation centre will have all welfare support withdrawn and no cash will be available to them, meaning they will have no access to public transport to visit solicitors or doctors. The accommodation centre project mirrors a similar project run in Millbank in 2007 which was proclaimed a failure.
It might appear that UKBA lacks real enthusiasm for ending child detention and are going through the motions of searching for alternatives before insisting the current methods of removal which they employ with such disastrous consequences, are retained or returned to.
Indeed, it is reported that UKBA are talking of refurbishing 4 rooms at Tinsley House Immigration Removal Centre at Gatwick Airport to make them suitable for use by families with children. There seems to be a lack of communication and will somewhere between the Government rhetoric machine and those who are meant to carry out the policies on the ground.
What is now needed is the release of any detained children and their families and for the HM Inspector of Prisons to oversee the decommissioning of all facilities for the immigration detention of children. Medical Justice are also calling for a public enquiry nto how UK immigration policy led to the routine detention of children. You can’t help but think they have a point.
Nick Clegg is due to make a further statement about the detention of children tomorrow – 16 December.