The Independent View: Child detention – mind the gap between rhetoric and reality

‘Today marks a big culture shift within our immigration system,’ said Nick Clegg two weeks ago, announcing plans purporting to end child detention. ‘That practice, the practice we inherited, ends here,’ he said.

Sadly, it didn’t end there.

Liberal Democrats interested in these matters might take a look at two dossiers of evidence compiled by End Child Detention Now and published on openDemocracy.

Mind the Gap! Coalition claims and realities for child detention in the UK tests the new ‘compassionate approach to family returns’ as expressed in government documents released on December 16

Drawing on evidence elsewhere, for instance an HMIP report on multiple, shocking failures at the G4S-run immigration removal centre Tinsley House, we seek to illuminate the ‘new approach’ that will see children and their parents until at least May this year locked up at . . . Tinsley House.

We urge relentless scrutiny and pressure to ensure that child detention really ends and is not simply rebranded, relentless scrutiny and pressure to effect a real and much-needed ‘big culture shift’ at the Home Office.

Many Liberal Democrats are well aware of asylum policy’s fundamental flaw: the automatic disbelief that too often greets asylum seekers from their first moment of arrival, compounded by the shrinking availability of legal advice that might protect them (and the system) from sloppy decision-making. (Channel 4 Dispatches provided startling proof of that in November).

In Five years of denial: the UK government’s reckless pursuit of a punitive asylum policy — never mind the evidence of harm, we gather, for the first time in one place, much of the published evidence of the damage done by detention, evidence that senior civil servants have denied, misrepresented and buried over the years.

Some of those civil servants are still in post, framing the new ‘compassionate’ approach.

Nick Clegg was right to credit Liberal Democrats with fighting long and hard to end child detention. But it hasn’t ended yet. Please, keep on fighting, and mind the gap between Home Office assertion and reality.

Clare Sambrook is one of six friends running the unfunded citizens’ campaign End Child Detention Now. She won both the 2010 Paul Foot Award and the Bevins Prize for stories exposing government misrepresentations about the child detention policy.

The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

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18 Comments

  • So, Nick’s lied again has he?

    Shameful.

  • paul barker 1st Jan '11 - 4:49pm

    The Clegg quote is taken out of context. What Libdems actually claim is that numbers of children in detention are massively down & that the practise will end by this May. We understand that elements in the Civil Service will try to sabotage progress.

  • Roger Roberts 1st Jan '11 - 6:41pm

    The ending of child detention for immigration purposes is a firm commitment. It was one of the chief reasons for many of us in backing the coalition. Labour in the House of Lords have already tried to make insincere and unworthy party political comments – apparently no interest in the welfare of the children only in trying to score cheap political points. In a recent short debate the ONLY peer to support continued detention was a former Labour minister.
    We have fought hard to ensure the early fulfillment of this commitment and will continue to do so. Labour tolerated the detention of around 1,000 children a year – already that is down to near zero.
    Those who have a real concern should keep in touch with us.

  • Man on the Bus 1st Jan '11 - 7:48pm

    “The Clegg quote is taken out of context.”

    How the hell could the meaning of “That practice, the practice we inherited, ends here” be changed by its “context”?

  • Geoffrey Payne

    Why would you bring the Labour or Conservative parties into this?

    Nick Clegg was filmed in his pre-election PPB walking along the embankment chiming “the end of broken promises”. I and many others joined his party believing it was different to the other 2. Turns out it isn’t.

  • TheContinentalOp 2nd Jan '11 - 12:07am

    Good luck Claire. Your work is much appreciated.

    I think it’s a great shame that Labour supporters weren’t so vocalon this matter pre-Coalition. As critical as I am of the current Government and Clegg at least there is appears to be some progress now. It’s not enough, but it’s more than we got under the last Government.

  • I don’t think any decent person would wish to see children, innocent of any offence, being detained and especially not in the matter practised by Labour and the Tory Coalition Government.

    However, as I have said before, when it comes to asylum seekers who might decide to do a runner when they realise that they have no further appeals left and they are going to be returned home, do you only detain single people and couples without kids. I have read the dossiers mentioned btw and was unhappy at a lot I read and I noted the comments about the absconding risk not being regarded as the major one. In particular I refer to the dawn raid scenario which is despicable and for which there’s no excuse.

    But the government of the day must make the simple decision about what it does when the parent/parents of a child are being returned home. Does the child stay with them or is the child taken into care – I would suggest that being taken away from mum or dad is more traumatic than remaining with them.

    However, any adult taken into detention should be assessed on agreed criteria for flight risk and it may well be that the desired result could be achieved by taking the adult male into detention and allowing the child/children to remain with the mother until the actual departure and the family unit all leaving together.

    Obviously the process when children are involved must receive priority and be accelerated and if this means that cases involving single adults or couples with no children are delayed as a result then so be it. Whether we like it or not there are only finite resources available and they must, in the first place, be used to protect c hildren.

    And we have to recognise that the asylum seekers will use absolutely anything in their fight to remain in this country and will use every possible delaying target and legal move. I have come across some immigration lawyers and advisors who are a disgrace in the way they exploit these desperate people for financial gain and who delay their return even when there isn’t a hope in hell that the often frivolous appeals will be heard let alone succeed.

    I should make it clear that I have no animosity towards asylum seekers fighting to stay here because my four great grandparents were all economic immigrants from Ireland so who am I to refuse anyone fighting for a better life. However, in the current economic climate even I cannot allow the UK doors to be thrown totally open to cover all economic immigrants or overstayers. I say this because I think the cap envisaged is going to be well exceeded because of all the changes with EEC legislation taking place this year.

    I should have also stated that we need some kind of judicial oversight of any unit used for detained people and much better health services etc and most of all a compassionate and caring regime which is independently monitored and held accountable. Sadly, mistakes will be made and people will be returned home in error to an uncertain fate which is bad enough so let’s do our best not to compound the personal tragedy involved.

    Sadly, in the current political climate there is little but animosity towards asylum seekers and immigrants. Obviously economic pressures worsen public attitudes and matters aren’t calmed by Tories banging their ideological drum about immigration caps to placate their rabid right wing voters.

    Yea let’s be tough on those who overstay their visas or who work with no work permit – show we are tough on that by detaining them and using an accelerated process to return them and keep them in detention till that’s done’

    I watch Border Patrol or whatever it’s called on telly lifting these punters every week and see them being told they’ve got to report to the cop shop every week till their case is dealt with only for it to be revealed that most never turn up and they just ‘disappear’. I see all the claims of tens of thousands of fines being levied and wonder how much is actually paid with businesses closing and opening next day under another name with no legal liability for any fine against the previous owner.

    Of course I really wonder if the Tories really want rid of these exploited low-wage workers as their chums who employ them off-the-books might be unhappy at paying minimum wage and NI contributions.

  • I think there is progress being made on this. Unfortunately, yet again Clegg snatches defeat from the jaws of victory. People would have preferred to hear that the issue is more complex then first thought and that a multi step plan was being followed to stop the practice (which is what appears to be happening).

    Instead desperate for good news we get the new labouresque spin that the practice is ended. Cue cheap, easy headlines for both the Tory and Labour press and they will be right, it isn’t yet ended.

    I’m prepared to give the coalition the benefit of the doubt on their intentions, but not indefinately. Let’s have some clear un spun updates in the new year pease Mr Clegg…….

  • Glad to see the real concern and understanding of the issues involved. But EcoJon does slide into talking at first about asylum seekers and then into referring to economic migrants – not blaming them for seeking a better life. The people I work with are all sufferers from torture and have been forced into leaving their home country. Many of these are the ones who are sent back – often back to imprisonment or a life in hiding.
    I agree there are many unscrupulous solicitors but there are others who are prepared to work hard at the last minute for people who may not have been properly represented until that late stage. And sometimes it is only at this point that the process starts to turn around so that they might eventually be given leave to remain.
    But the fault, as Clare Sambrook says, is in the culture of disbelief. Millions of pounds are being wasted by the Home Office on their own legal fees and on unnecessary detention of people who end up being given refugee status – when with the right attitude (eg asking for an assessment from Medical Foundation when torture is referred to by the asylum seeker) the claim could have been settled years earlier.

  • BLOCKEM, Glasgow 2nd Jan '11 - 9:53am

    There will be no shortage of asylum, refugee and immigration support “charities” hovering around to find out what the alternative to boarding children pre-deportation will be. There lies a very lucrative contract via the taxpayer for taking on the new alternative.

    Problem is, a purpose of asylum, refugee and immigration support “charities” is to sabotage and block asylum deportations.

  • BLOCKEM, Glasgow 2nd Jan '11 - 9:59am

    Here’s what’s on offer at Dungavel, Scotland – y’know, that terrible “prison” where failed asylum seekers choose to take their children rather then return to their own countries.

    #A separate learning and resource centre, which caters for an extensive range of activities, such as English classes, sewing, arts & crafts, world cuisine (separate kitchen annex), I.T and the internet cafe.
    # The centre has a well stocked library where the detainees have access to books, magazines, newspapers, CDs, DVDs and play station games.
    # The well equipped gymnasium includes weights, basketball and volleyball.
    # There is an outdoor all-weather floodlit pitch.
    # There is also a children’s separate outdoor play-area.
    # There is also a family unit crèche for under-fives
    # There are two association rooms on each floor of the accommodation areas which contain satellite TVs and snack-making facilities.
    # Several prayer rooms are provided for detainee use, including the building’s original chapel which is used as a multi-faith area.
    # 24 hour medical care is provided on site. There is a nurse on duty 24hours a day (rota) and a doctor on call 24hrs a day.
    # A daily surgery is held which enables all the previous days receptions to be assessed, before/alongside the routine appointments.
    # A dentist is appointed to attend on a weekly basis for routine check-ups and appointments, however emergency dental care is provided if at all required, beyond this weekly schedule.
    #An optician is also appointed to attend the centre on a fortnightly basis.
    # There are several paid work opportunities available including hygiene monitors, grounds officers.
    # and servery assistants.
    # Care visits and midwives are provided where necessary via outpatient appointments.

  • @Moorlander

    I perhaps confused the issue by not fully explaining that my grandparents may well have been candidates for asylum in Britain except for the fact that Britain was the occupying colonial power in Ireland when they abandoned their homeland.

    I also accept that there are many who do stop families being returned by sterling last-minute work and that the whole system has needed a serious overhall for years. But a lot of the problems I have seen asylum seekers suffering from are lost documents which are irreplaceable and the impossibility of allocating blame whether on the applicant; goverment department, Royal Mail or useless advisors and lawyers.

    It might not be palatable but like any system, asylum seekers learn how to ger round it and use it to their advantage and they are often aided by politically motivated activists with only a veneer of actual interest in the asylum seeker.

    That’s what makes the job of the honest unbiased officials so difficult and it’s a bit like benefit cheats and the slow-drip of negative publicity about them that eventually percolates through and leaves them demonised in the wider public eye even though only a minority are culpable.

    It would be easy to attack Clegg on this but not very productive. It’s the classic case of coming into power and not really understanding the problem. Of course we all know kids shouldn’t be locked-up and of course it should be immediately ended. The problem is how do we achieve it because there are no easy answers. Where Clegg could be open to future attack is if he has carried out a cosmetic rebranding exercise and, in effecr, kicked the issue into the long grass. Obviously upcoming issues like control orders may provider a pointer as it’s beginning to look as though May may well get her way.

    It’s easy to attack Gordon Brown for his record on the issue but I can only say that Brown is a very decent human whose whole instinct would be to assist genuine asylum seekers. But he failed, mainly I think because of the complexity of the issue; pressure from the right-wing press; and the fact that other more pressing issues overwhelmed him in his very short-time as Prime Minister.

  • Andrew Suffield 3rd Jan '11 - 8:07am

    I watch Border Patrol or whatever it’s called on telly lifting these punters every week and see them being told they’ve got to report to the cop shop every week till their case is dealt with only for it to be revealed that most never turn up and they just ‘disappear’.

    It would be profoundly foolish to regard “Border Patrol” as being a documentary. At best, it’s tabloid news-creation; at worst, it’s a political tool to build hatred against certain groups of people.

    I see all the claims of tens of thousands of fines being levied and wonder how much is actually paid with businesses closing and opening next day under another name with no legal liability for any fine against the previous owner.

    Oh, nonsense. A closed business is still liable for fines, and if it can’t pay then the directors are liable for prosecution. At the very least they will be barred from operating another company; if it is part of a deliberate pattern of deception then they’ll be jailed. Corporate liability is limited – to jail for the directors – not nonexistent. Its purpose is to protect investors, not directors.

  • BLOCKEM, Glasgow 3rd Jan '11 - 9:57am

    @Andrew Suffield

    Quote from a communication from the then Immigration Department:- “in a recent experiment approximately 40 families we invited to present themselves for deportation but of these, approximately 39 then disappeared and have not been seen since.”

  • @Andrew Suffield who said: ‘It would be profoundly foolish to regard “Border Patrol” as being a documentary. At best, it’s tabloid news-creation; at worst, it’s a political tool to build hatred against certain groups of people.’

    Irrespective of the accuracy of Mr Suffield’s comment it doesn’t in any way alter the truth of my statement which was: ‘I watch Border Patrol or whatever it’s called on telly lifting these punters every week and see them being told they’ve got to report to the cop shop every week till their case is dealt with only for it to be revealed that most never turn up and they just ‘disappear’.

    I further stated: ‘I see all the claims of tens of thousands of fines being levied and wonder how much is actually paid with businesses closing and opening next day under another name with no legal liability for any fine against the previous owner.’

    Mr Suffield replied: ‘Oh, nonsense. A closed business is still liable for fines, and if it can’t pay then the directors are liable for prosecution. At the very least they will be barred from operating another company; if it is part of a deliberate pattern of deception then they’ll be jailed. Corporate liability is limited – to jail for the directors – not nonexistent. Its purpose is to protect investors, not directors.’

    I should point out that I have some experience in this area and it seems obvious to me that Mr Suffield has none and is actually just stating how the law should work. In practice a lot of these businesses are small and usually ethnically run. The ownership structure can be very unclear in a lot of cases and a lot are sole-traders or a loose partnership or extended family grouping, so any threat of being banned as a director is worthless.

    Often the business has no assetts and only rent the premises and fixtures and fittings from the owner and often the ‘manager’ is a man of straw with no possibility of paying any fine. Mr Suffield does not appear to realise that the ‘closed’ business just ceases to exist and is seamlessly rolled-into the new business which usually opens the next day. That’s the reality.

    I have also allowed myself a huge smile at Mr Suffield believing that Companies House is quick to ban directors – not my experience and often I wonder what it actually takes to get a director banned in reality and not in theory. I speak in general on this issue re UK businesses in general and not just those owned by people with an ethnic background.

    The point I was clearly making about ‘no legal liability’ for any fine is that the new business has no liability – obviously the old one has but, in practice, it’s hard to enforce for the reasons I’ve already stated. I would also point out that deliberate patterns of deception are very difficult to prosecute because those who embark on this course take precautions and there is always the language difficulty which can arise – either deliberately or in fact.

    There are of course larger businesses which are established companies with directors and shareholders and fixed assetts using large amounts of illegal workers. So how do they escape legal action. Quite simply they use employment agencies , often dodgy, as a middleman and responsibility shifts to them. At this level we are into the realms of gangmasters and criminals and forged documents and as the actual legal checks required are pitiful then the whole question of actually securing successful prosecutions becomes a nightmare.

    So our hard-pressed Border Patrol and other agencies, as always, go for the easy targets to make sure they meet their targets and I very much doubt if anything with change with the Tory Coalition.

    I note I used the phrase ‘tens of thousands of fines’ in my original post and that should have read ‘tens of thousands of pounds in fines’ as for each illegal worker the fine can be up to £10K.

    I had rather hoped that Mr Suffield might have been able to add to the discussion with some facts rather than just invective but I have been disappointed.

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