"My contention remains that detention is harmful to children and therefore never likely to be in their best interests, and we continue to argue that the detention of children for immigration control should cease." - Al Aynsley-Green.
Once again the Children's Commissioner for England, Al Aynsley-Green, has criticised the government's policy of detaining children at Yarl's Wood immigration prison and yet again the UK Borders Agency has come out with the usual homilies about each case being "considered carefully on its own merits" and that "the presumption in all cases continues to be in favour of granting temporary admission or release wherever possible", garlanded with the usual untruths about "people who are in detention are there because both the UK Border Agency and the independent courts deem them to have no legal right to be here". (NB: The press release does not say ALL people or THE ONLY people.)
The report* is a follow up to last year's 'The Arrest and Detention of Children Subject to Immigration Control', published in May 2009, which was highly critical of the Yarl's Wood regime and of the detention of children involved in the immigration system in general. The follow up was conducted in October last year based on 2 visits; one consisting of face-to-face interviews with detained adult family members, and held participation sessions with school aged children, and the second involving independent health and social care professionals studying a sample of detained children's medical records and welfare files.
Whilst the latest report did not dispute the UKBA's figures that, of the 1,000 plus children detained every year, the average length of detention is about two weeks. However, many children are obviously held much longer and in one case the study found a family was held for 70 days. As the report states "Article 37(b) of the UNCRC [UN Convention on the Rights of the Child] requires that detention is used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time ... Our evidence that some children are admitted to Yarl’s Wood for prolonged periods, and sometimes repeatedly, challenges this intent."
On the health front, the first report was also highly critical of health provision, and the follow up also found a failure to assess "even at an elementary level" the general psychological well-being of a child on arrival and a failure to recognise psychological harm when faced with dramatic changes in a child's behaviour. Medical records also revealed "the case of a three-year-old child with a fractured arm was symptomatic of a failure to provide a standard of NHS care that any British citizen could expect. The child had been examined by a nurse hours after a fall, but was not seen by a doctor until 15 hours later and, five hours after that, was taken to hospital."
The children's sessions found that the majority (62.5%) disagreed with the statement that the arresting staff were ‘friendly and helpful’. In fact, the report noted how many children "commented on the loud or violent way in which homes were entered, rude behaviour or treatment by officers, and the shadowing of children using the bathroom and toilet." Children also complained about being physically escorted from their homes, thereby making them feel and look like criminals.
Stung by the publicity the criticism garnered, Dave Wood, head of criminality and detention at the UKBA, later elaborated on the relatively bland UKBA press release, that the report contained "factual inaccuracies" and that in some areas, it was "misguided and wrong." He also tried to push the blame for the situation onto the parents of the children, claiming that the majority of cases of prolonged detention were the fault of the parents making “vexatious” legal claims and using judicial review to delay their deportation.
On the positive side, the report did commend the end to the use of ‘caged vans’ to transport children as per the previous report's recommendation. However, it also noted that there now appeared to have been a "coincident increase in the use of separate vehicles to transport children and parents at the point of arrest", and went on to argue that "separating young children from their parents – even for a short time during transportation - is potentially extremely damaging and should only be used in the most extreme circumstances."
* Link to the Follow Up Report and the Executive Summary.
"We stand by our contention that arrest and detention are inherently damaging to children, and that Yarl’s Wood is no place for a child."