Julian Huppert MP writes… Protecting basic rights for every single child

Tuesday saw the publication of HMIP’s first report into the Cedars ‘pre-departure accommodation’.

For those of you who aren’t versed in UKBA jargon (few are), ‘pre-departure accommodation’ was established in December 2010 as part of our strategy to end Labour’s abhorrent policy of routinely detaining children for immigration purposes.

Under Labour, from 2005-2010, 7000 children who had committed no crime were detained.

Children were imprisoned in appalling conditions, including the now infamous Yarl’s Wood centre.

Detention was often for weeks and months. In one case, for 190 days. The policy was one of locking children up indefinitely – an atrocious course of action for any modern country.

The scale of the changes we’ve made since coming in to office is immense. Now, families are only ever held in accommodation as an absolute last resort immediately before departure.

Cedars accommodation centre, which opened just over a year ago to replace Yarl’s Wood, is only used if families who do not have permission to be in the UK fail to co-operate with all the other options to leave the UK, such as the offer of assisted voluntary return.

Families are there for no more than 72 hours, unless in exceptional circumstances – such as when a plane is delayed – and then Ministers can only extend detention up to a week. Families are there to wait for the next flight, not to undergo weeks of prison-like conditions with no knowledge of the outcome.

This new centre consists of nine self-contained, family-friendly apartments. During the month in which it was inspected, there were between 2 and 10 detainees there, rather than the hundreds detained by Labour.

Our approach is the difference between giving every child, no matter where they’re from, basic human rights, or depriving them of those rights because the state finds it convenient.

But, for me, the crucial aspect isn’t the total number of people detained, or the length for which they’re detained, it is the conditions in which they’re held.

If a family has to be forcibly removed, because every other procedure has failed, that removal must never be a degrading and distressing experience for the innocent children who have done no wrong.

The children, after all, have committed no crime, and should not be punished, nor their learning and development interrupted.

Forgive me, then, for giving a full quote from the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, to illustrate the change we’ve made:

… unlike our consistent finding at Yarl’s Wood, the conditions and length of detention at Cedars could not be said to cause distress to children and parents. In fact, parents told us that if they were to be removed forcibly, they would rather be held in Cedars for a short time, both to provide time for applications for judicial review, and to help them settle and prepare their children.

… It is an exceptional facility and has many practices that should be replicated in other places of detention. However, it is also, when said and done, a place that precedes a traumatic dislocation for children who have, in many cases, been born in this country or been here for much of their lives. It is to the considerable credit of staff at Cedars that children held in these circumstances were, in general, happily occupied, and that parents were able to concentrate on communication with solicitors, family and friends. This inspection found conditions and treatment that exceed by some distance what families have previously experienced before removal. For that reason, staff at Cedars deserve great credit for what has been achieved in circumstances that are never less than sad.

There are still some clear concerns, as there always will be in horrific cases such as these. The report notes that, although considerable efforts were made to avoid force at the point of removal, it had been used against six of the 39 families going through Cedars, and in one worrying case force had been used to effect the removal of a pregnant woman. This is clearly unacceptable, and I have already spoken to the Home Office about it – it must never happen again.

But long-gone are the days of “scant regard to basic welfare needs”, “serious child protection risks” and routine detention that was “harmful and damaging to children and young people”.

With Liberal Democrats in Government, these basic rights are protected for every single child.

* Julian Huppert was the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge from 2010-15

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6 Comments

  • I think this is all really good news. What spoils it is the persistence of some to claim there is no more child detention. The truth, as clear from the piece above, is that there will probably always be a need to detain on limited occasions. The “victory” is that these arrangements limit its use, make the conditions acceptable and bring an element of humanity back to proceedings.

    I think that is a stronger message then blandly, and innaccurately stating child detention has been ended.

  • Richard Dean 25th Oct '12 - 11:32am

    HM Chief Inspector of Prisons is quoted as referring to “a traumatic dislocation for children who
    have, in many cases, been born in this country or been here for much of their lives”. I was under
    the impression that children born here have the right to become British citizens – is that not the
    case? I am also surprised that we deport the parents of children who have been here most of their
    lives. Are we not violating some human rights here?

  • Richard Shaw 25th Oct '12 - 12:29pm

    @Richard

    If I recall correctly, it hasn’t been the case that children born in Britain to non-British citizens are automatically British citizens since about 1983/84. The child has to go through the same naturalisation process as their parents. However, if one of the parents is a British citizen then they, the child, also has British citizenship.

    Using myself as an example, I am British and married to a dual Trinidadian-American citizen. If we have children they would have tri-citizenship (a ‘Britrinimerican’ one might say), inheriting both our nationalities (this may vary, depending on each parental country’s citizenship rules). However, if I were, say, Australian, my children would not be automatically British, even if born here. I hope that’s clear. 🙂

  • Andrew Suffield 25th Oct '12 - 8:43pm

    I am also surprised that we deport the parents of children who have been here most of their
    lives. Are we not violating some human rights here?

    It’s impossible to know the specifics of actual cases, but it is supposed to be the case that this is taken into consideration when a court decides what to do with them, and hence the case would have to be fairly egregious for the court to deport them anyway.

    On general principle, having a child cannot be allowed to be a “get out of deportation free” card. The effects of that would be disastrous, as people would have children solely to stay in the UK, and then discard them.

  • ” I am also surprised that we deport the parents of children who have been here most of their
    lives. Are we not violating some human rights here?”

    I’ve a feeling this has happened in some extreme cases – and it is a strong reason for having a humane but reasonably rapid removals process (which allows for due process).

    Pretty much any deportation will violate a human right. A major principle of Human Rights legislation is about proportionated interferene with the established rights.

  • Dave Eastham 26th Oct '12 - 12:05pm

    A somewhat less than flattering spin on the same report was recently in the Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/23/britain-sill-locking-up-children . Which does raise things like suggesting that the only people who have exhausted all appeal rights should end up there but a number have been released and re-detained. So how does that work?. There are also claims that families and children are still being detained in other “classic” centres, such as Tinsley House near Gatwick.

    Another recent report from the Refugee Council http://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/news/archive/news/2012/august/300812_children_detention_asylum_statistics , reports that there is a rise in the detention of children and also goes on to say that there is some evidence that there are up to 60 children held, who have arrived unacompanied and been wrongly classified as adults and are in detention.

    So, as Julian so rightly says, “…long-gone are the days of “scant regard to basic welfare needs”, “serious child protection risks” and routine detention that was “harmful and damaging to children and young people” “. However, there is still the unfortunate tendency by some in our party to “overclaim” on the achievments of Lib Dems in Government. Such as “an end to Child Detention” (um… not quite but much improved ), or even perhaps, many taken out of paying income tax because the threshold has been raised to ten grand – again um…., not quite yet – but getting there.

    I do wish this tendency to self undermine in the Lib Dems would cease. After all, we have many non friends quite willing to do that for us!. It is surely much better to be brutally honest about what has been really achieved, or not. Than trying to spin it in the classic manner. Surely that can be left to the Tories and the Labour Party.

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