After the ending of child detention – what next?

After the moving and amazing presentation and big “thank you” to the Lib Dems from Citizens UK on the Sunday morning of conference, for ending the detention of children of asylum seekers, what could possibly follow it?

The next day the newly formed “Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary”, along with Citizens UK, met in a nearby Church Hall. Those who had been, and were going through, the asylum process in the UK and were connected with both Citizens UK and Movement for Justice had come down to tell their stories. There to listen were members of the House of Lords, MPs, MEP researchers, Councillors, and other Lib Dem members. The stories were moving and it was difficult to imagine how the people we were listening to had been through terrible traumas in the country they had fled from, seeking sanctuary here, and also how some had been treated by our asylum system here in the UK.

Before relating some of those stories, we want to tell you about a truly amazing and moving reunion. When our visitors arrived we asked them to put their names on a label, so we all knew who each other were. B was from Senegal. He had his name badge on and was with Citizens UK. M from Gambia was with Movement for Justice. She saw his family name on his name badge and said she knew people with the name from Africa. It turned out that she had been bringing up B’s niece in Gambia. It seems that family names cross Gambia and Senegal national boundaries. She and B were able to exchange contact details and are now able to be back in touch with family and friends back at home. A touching and moving moment that, in itself, made the meeting worthwhile.

In contrast to that joy, there were other stories that unfolded. In countries from which our guests had fled we heard how one lady had been trained to perform female genital mutilation, as it was a hereditary duty. When she refused to continue to do this, she had to flee for fear of her life, and knows she will be killed if she returns and continues to refuse. Our country is refusing to accept this as a reason for her not to return though. We heard stories of persecution because of being gay, and for speaking out against injustices of governments and tribal leaders, all of which would be punishable by death if they had to return.

We also heard of injustices here, in the UK. How people were treated in our detention centres, including an account of how one man was given bread with mould on it. When he complained he was told that in this country it was good for you, as it had penicillin in it. When another was asked what changes he would like us to bring about in detention he replied simply – “to be treated as a human being, not a criminal”. We doubt if criminals have as bad conditions in our prisons though. We also heard time after time the culture of disbelief, where officials from UKBA stubbornly refuse to believe terrible happenings, regardless of their corroborating evidence.

Harrowing stories, and a big thank you for all who came along to listen.

We then held the fringe meeting to launch Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary, with Julian Huppert giving us a great opening speech. Unlike most fringe meetings we spent most of the time with contributions from everyone present, and the opportunity for those who did not speak to write their concerns on papers collected at the end of the meeting. Also unlike most fringe meetings we came up with an action list of what we planned to do about so many of the issues raised.

Our organisation is not going to be just a talking shop, it started with a big listening exercise, and is moving onto an action exercise. There will be opportunities for many different skills, time commitment, and commitment. We want to hear from those who have experience of working with and for asylum seekers and refugees and those who want to learn more about the possibilities for change in the current system. We have a website so, please do get in touch via the website if you would like to know more, help in any way, or donate.

* Suzanne Fletcher was a councillor for nearly 30 years and a voluntary advice worker with the CAB for 40 years. Now retired, she is active as a campaigner in the community both as a Lib Dem and with local organisations. She is Liberal Democrat Seekers of Sanctuary's parliamentary and external relations officer.

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7 Comments

  • Why are there still reports of children being detained at the Dungavel Immigration and Removal Centre in South Lanarkshire? Is this another example of coalitionist spin being at variance with reality and the lack of influence we have in the coalition?

    http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/304494/Coalition-reneges-on-detention-camp-pledge-to-children

  • There are also reports of child detention at Tinsley House.

    This is something that I have raised previously on this board as it is very dishonest to say that child detention has ended.

    That’s not to say that conditions have not been improved, they have, but it is very misleading to make such claims that child detention has ended all together and it does the parties reputation no good at all when they continually make these claims

  • I agree with the above. This is a great idea for a group as the way Labour treated asylum seekers (whether claims upheld or not) was pretty much a disgrace. We can jusifiably claim that there is a massive massive improvement in both the scale and the conditions in which children were detained for immigration purposes – and we should press for similar changes and limits on adult detention for immigration purposes. Claiming something which isn’t the case undermines both.

    (Matt – we’ve been here before haven’t we!)

  • The detention of children of asylum seekers being detained in detention centres prior to removal has ended. It is not just about changing conditions for the better, it is a completely new system. I’ve been to the new pre departure centre myself and seen. An independent monitoring panel is being set up by Citizens UK, to ensure that everything is running as it ought to be, so if you have examples of children still being detained in detention centres, please do send details so they can be investigated as soon as possible. thanks.

  • Suzanne you only have to go to http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/science-research-statistics/research-statistics/immigration-asylum-research/immigration-q2-2012/

    to see the official figures and will see that child detention has not ended.

    This has been discussed previously https://www.libdemvoice.org/liberal-democrats-thanked-for-ending-child-detention-for-immigration-purposes-30380.html as Hywel mentions above.

  • The title of this article us sadly misleading. Please try to be accurate on such an important issue. For example, you could say: “Despite a massive increase in child detention, it’s still not as bad as under Labour”. Not quite as catchy, but its the truth.

    If you check ghe Home Office stats, you will see that detention of children has DOUBLED in the last year. Despite this, the board set up to monitor child detention has recomended that detention at the Cedars facility be increased, because it is not operating at full capacity, which is inefficient use of resources. The statistics also show that a third of these children are released, not removed from UK, showing that the claim that children are only detained prior to removal is a lie.

  • “If you check ghe Home Office stats, you will see that detention of children has DOUBLED in the last year. ”

    It is now at such a low level that any fluctuations will produce a massive percentage increase (or decrease)

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