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Detention of asylum seeking children is abuse


by Clare Sambrook, a co-ordinator of citizens’ campaign End Child Detention Now

One key feature of government guidance issued this week on how UKBorder Agency staff should care for the children they lock up, is ’safer recruitment’. Officers raiding family homes and searchingchildren in their beds will be thoroughly checked, with ‘referencesalways taken up’.

That begs the question: just how low were standards until now?

Actually, we don’t need to guess how bad things are in UKBA’s asylum-seeker prisons.

“State-sanctioned neglect”

Families fresh out of detention confirm in every detail the recent report (pdf) by paediatricians and psychologists in Child Abuse & Neglect who found that children detained at Yarl’s Wood were ‘clearly vulnerable, marginalized, and at risk of mental and physical harm as a result of state sanctioned neglect.’

The doctors recorded comments from parents about their children’s ‘sexualised behaviour’, about older children’s tendency to wet their beds and soil their pants, about the ‘increased fear due to being suddenly placed in a facility resembling a prison’, about the ‘abrupt loss of home, school friends and all that was familiar to them.’

The doctors reported the photographing and the fingerprinting, the roll calls and the body searches, the ID cards that children must carry at all times, the ten locked doors between freedom and the family centre, the steep deterioration in parents’ mental health and parenting abilities, the self-harm and the suicide attempts.

Human suffering

To speak, as the government did this week, of giving children the ‘opportunity to thrive’ in the context of this moral calamity would be laughable if it were not for the human suffering behind every statistic.

Last weekend, immigration minister Phil Woolas revealed in a letter to Pete Wishart MP that 889 children from 488 families had been detained for more than 28 days between April 2004 and September 2009.

No matter how good the guidance, nor how diligently some people may follow it, the fact is that innocent children, whatever their immigration status, do not belong in prison.


It harms them. There is no need for it. There is no evidence that families with children are likely to abscond. The detention of asylum seeking children is absolutely unacceptable. It is state-sponsored child-abuse and it must stop.

End Child Detention Now has launched a petition calling upon the government to stop detaining children.

About Simeon Brody

Community Care managing web editor

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One Response to Detention of asylum seeking children is abuse

  1. Thank you for this, Clare.

    Opposing hate crime is a keen theme for the Green Party. We show leadership by setting about making life more sustainable and sustaining for everyone. That does not appear to me to be how capitalist, market-driven government operates.

    It is noteworthy that only months before Tony McNulty gained household name notoriety over second home expenses, he confirmed to me in writing as Minister for Employment & Welfare Reform that Government had no plans for increasing the weekly ‘earnings disregard’ for Jobseekers Allowance claimants beyond the figures set in 1988. (The WEEKLY ‘earnings disregard for single JSA claimants aged 25+ is less than the HOURLY national minimum wage.)

    And before McNulty became Minister for Employment & Welfare Reform, he was Immigration Minister.

    Alan Wheatley
    GPEW Disability Spokesperson