Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The brutality of Britain's "soft" immigration system

In a previous post, I wrote that "until September last year, we violated the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child by continuing to detain 2,000 refugee children a year." This sentence came as part of a passage explaining how "New Labour has made the border control system more rigid and oppressive than it ever was." In fact, by stating that the detention of children ended with our signing up to the UN Convention, I was understating the brutality of the system against children.

On 1st November, the Independent on Sunday revealed that "more than 1,300 children were detained at three immigration removal centres in the UK" between July 2008 and September 2009. "A total of 884 children were held at Yarl's Wood immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire between July 2008 and July 2009, 328 children at the Tinsley House centre near Gatwick Airport between September 1 2008 and August 31 2009, and 103 children at the Dungavel centre in Scotland between October 2008 and September 18 2009."

The figures emerged in a letter from immigration minister Phil Woolas to Scottish National Party MP Pete Wishart. Woolas's "letter cautioned that these figures were not subject to the "detailed checks" that usually apply to official statistics," suggesting that "individual children may have been counted more than once, as they could have been transferred from one centre to another." And yet, despite such weaseling, Woolas insists that "the welfare of children is an issue which I take very seriously." Apparently, "the UK Border Agency is introducing the duty of care to children through the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill," whilst "a programme to improve statistics on people held in detention is under way" that "will result in more statistics published, subject to data quality," and "give a particular focus to detained children."

However, as Wishart points out, the government is "detaining the equivalent of a high school every year across the UK." His condemnation of this action was unequivocal;
Detaining children in centres made for adults is simply wrong.
Whatever the position of the parents, children should not be detained behind barbed wire.
That 103 children have been held in Scotland - where the Scottish Government is firmly against child detention is deeply disturbing. It's time for the UK Government to end this practice.
These figures show nearly 200 children a year are being held for more than four weeks. Regardless of what provision is made for children in these centres they are that they are being held behind bars is unacceptable.
I will be pursuing this issue with the UK Government. Children's welfare is not well served by the UK's actions and regardless of their parents immigration status children should not have to pay this price.
As the No Borders Brighton blog points out, Wishart is not the first person to draw attention to this issue. "The continued detention of children by the UK Borders Agency has been the subject of widespread condemnation, including the Children's Commissioner for England Alan Aynsley-Green, in a report entitled The Arrest and Detention of Children Subject to Immigration Control, and Refugee and Migrant Justice, formerly the Refugee Legal Centre, in the Does Every Child Matter? report." However, despite Woolas's professed "seriousness" on the issue, the government remains immune to criticism on this front and "continues this abhorrent practice."

As this issue came to light, the Times is one of several sources to report that "Alan Johnson coupled his admission yesterday of having done too little to tackle Britain’s immigration crisis with criticism for some of his predecessors for having ignored the problem." That, in the midst of such revelations, government ministers continue to pander to the reactionary right is almost beyond belief. Certainly, it says all about the "seriousness" with which Phil Woolas and his fellow cabinet ministers address the human rights of the most vulnerable people on these shores.