by Esmé Madill, co-ordinator of End Child Detention Now
Alban can’t remember how old he was when his family was arrested anddetained — five maybe? He’s 15 now. ‘Detention affects you mentally,’he says. ‘My parents don’t want to talk about it. It kick-starts us allremembering the bad times.’
It’s freezing outside Number 10 late afternoon on Thursday. We’ve come to Downing Street, Alban, his friends and me, to urge Gordon Brown to stop detaining children and their parents in prison-like conditions.
We’ve brought 200 handprints made by child refugees helped by the Shpresa Programme in schools across North and East London from Redbridge and Barking, through to Newham, Haringey and Enfield .
Please look after this bear
We’ve brought a petition and Paddington Bear, with the usual note, ‘Please look after this bear. Thank you.’ And another that Michael Bond has kindly sent along:
‘Whenever I hear about children from foreign countries being put into detention centres, I think how lucky I am to be living at number 32 Windsor Gardens with such nice people as Mr. and Mrs. Brown. Mrs. Bird, who looks after the Browns, says if she had her way she would set the children free and lock up a few politicians in their place to see how they liked it!’ Paddington Bear.
Twelve year old Sam who like the others fled war-torn Kosova years ago, tucks Paddington inside his anorak, safe against the cold.
Long periods of detention
Just a few months ago when we told people about what happens to asylum seeking families here, about the dawn raid, the sudden van journey with total strangers, men in uniform, no time to pack toys or books, call friends or tell their teachers they won’t be on that school trip, the long periods of detention, they didn’t believe it.
Then in October, half a dozen friends launched a citizens’ campaign, provoked two parliamentary motions, questions in Holyrood, the House of Commons and the Lords, generated stories across the national press. More than one hundred writers have protested against the detention policy. Leading doctors have urged the Government to stop it.
Jeremy Corbyn MP runs across Downing Street, greets the young people, shakes hands. ‘What you’re doing is really important,’ he says.
Sixteen year old Ela knocks on the door, a smiling policemen takes the handprints and the petition. The young refugees from Kosova and darkest Peru head off into the frozen London night.
You can sign the End Child Detention Now petition here