A refugee family is to receive thousands of pounds in compensation for false imprisonment, after the Home Office admitted they should have been freed when they applied for a judicial review against deportation. Carmen Quiroga, originally from Bolivia, and her four children, aged three to 11 at the time, spent six weeks in Oakington detention centre in Cambridgeshire in 2004.
Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, representing the family, argued the detention was illegal for reasons because it was not used as a last resort, the welfare of the children was not given priority, in contravention of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the use of force in detaining the family was "entirely disproportionate" and that the family had suffered inhuman and degrading treatment in contravention of the European convention on human rights.
The solicitors claimed that being detained in a dawn raid and held at the immigration centre had left the three eldest children with ongoing psychiatric problems. Ms Quiroga gave evidence that the family had suffered verbal abuse and threats from detention centre staff, were denied access to medicines and appropriate children's food and, during two unsuccessful attempts to deport them by plane, were threatened with violence. On one occasion she was also struck by a contracted security guard when she failed to maintain eye contact, as the children looked on.
In an interview with the Guardian, Ms Quiroga also said that: "This case was about being heard, and it's in this way that [I hope] what happened to me won't happen to other people." The trauma, she said, "is not something you are inventing. You feel it, you live it, and it's there all the time." Part of the settlement was an agreement by the Home Office to outline to Quiroga the steps it has taken to prevent the abuse recurring for other families.
Sarah Campbell, research and policy manager at charity Bail for Immigration Detainees, said: "This shocking case demonstrates the serious harm caused to children by detention. We regularly see the horrendous effects detention has on children, many of the children we work with experience depression, weight loss and even self-harm. There is no evidence that the detention of children is necessary for immigration control. The fact that this family had an ongoing legal case while they were in detention, and were eventually granted status to remain in the UK, raises very serious questions about why they were detained at all."
In a typical piece of Border Agency sophistry, David Wood, strategic director of 'criminality' and detention, claimed that: "Treating children with care and compassion is a priority for the UK Border Agency and whenever we take decisions involving children, their welfare comes first," despite all the evidence over the years to the contrary. If "their welfare comes first" why do you continue routinely locking them up?