Children’s charity Barnardo’s have been contracted by the Home Office as a service provider at the new families detention centre at Pease Pottage, Sussex. The secure “pre-departure accommodation” is widely seen as detention re-packaged, and Barnardo’s role in the centre – which could see over 6,000 children a year detained – is controversial.
Chief Executive Anne-Marie Carrie, refused to condemn the practice of child detention on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning, arguing that Barnardo’s are best placed to help in the running of the new centre, described by the Immigration Minister as having “an entirely different look and feel to an immigration removal centre”.
However, Heaven Crawley, professor of international migration at Swansea University, said on the Today programme the that new process is “really something of a repackaging”. Writing for the Migrants’ Rights Network blog today, Professor Crawley claims that to repackage detention as ‘pre-departure accommodation’ is disingenuous. “Families with children will be taken to the facility against their will. Once there, families will not be allowed to come and go freely. The unit is intended to be secure, which in this case means a 2.5m palisade fence with electronic gates surrounding the site, and 24-hour staffing designed to provide ‘an appropriate level of security to protect the occupants of the site and deter them leaving the site’.” She also calls on the government to come clean – if it can’t end child detention then it should say so. In fact, earlier this week in Parliament, the Immigration Minister did let slip that detention of children at Tinsley House immigration Removal Centre would indeed continue for “high risk families”.
Without doubt, the routine use of force and detention of children and families over the years has been shameful. As reported in the Free Movement legal blog, a High Court judgement in January revealed just how disgraceful practice has been. The case of R (on the application of Suppiah) v Secretary of State for the Home Department demonstrated that, despite overwhelming evidence that detention is harmful to children, UKBA officials ignored even their own guidelines on detaining only as a last resort. Alternatives were not pursued, UKBA claims of offering assisted voluntary removal prior to detention were untrue, and excessively long periods of detention were being used needlessly.
Sadly, no officials have been or will be brought to book for the false imprisonment of children and families under the previous Labour government. It is all water under the bridge since the coalition announced plans to reform the detention system for families.
It is yet to be seen whether the involvement of one of the country’s leading children’s’ charities will significantly improve the lot of detained children, or merely serve to help the coalition government with it’s public relations exercise.
The fact remains that children are still to be detained, and force is still to be used against families to remove them from the UK. The asylum system still operates a culture of disbelief, resulting in a high percentage of refugees being sent back to persecution.
And a question remains unanswered: just what do have we to fear from these families that we must hunt them down, lock them up and forcibly deport them? Families who have fled persecution, war or poverty, and come to the UK to make a better life for themselves and their children, should be allowed to live in safety for as long as they want to. Many would return to their home countries when it is safe, others would settle and their children grow to become part of our ever-changing society.
But as for detention, we can leave the final words to the previous Chief Executive of Barnado’s, Martin Narey, speaking in December 2010 in support of the government’s claim to have abolished detention of children:
“Incarcerating [children] simply because they have parents who wish to live here was unnecessary, expensive and more to the point, just plain wrong.” former Barnados Chief Executive, Martin Narey