Lib Dems react to closure of Cedars family immigration facility

One of the great things that Liberal Democrats ensured was that children would no longer be detained for immigration purposes. Instead, a pre-departure facility for families, Cedars, was set up with advice and support from Barnardos.

When we left Government, I feared it would be a matter of time before this excellent facility was closed.

And so, amid the flurry of announcements put out by the Government on the last day before the Summer recess, the news came yesterday. Cedars was being closed and families with children will once again be held in a detention centre Tinsley House.

Unsurprisngly, Liberal Democrats have reacted with horror.

Home Affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said:

Cedars was a civilised way of dealing with some of the most vulnerable young people in our care.

Ending the detention of children in lock-down institutions was something that the Liberal Democrats forced Theresa May as Home Secretary to do against her will. Now there are no restraints on her, she will indulge the more callous instincts of her party.

Having Tories in government is a bit like sharing your home with a cat. You may think that you have a domestic pet but the feral animal is never far beneath the surface.

He also sought assurances that families in Scotland would not be held in the Dungavel facility:

One of the first things that Lib Dems in government forced the then Home Secretary Theresa May to do was end the detention of children for immigration purposes. Days after coming to power she has thrown away years of progress.

What this decision means in practice is a return to situation where young children will find themselves in detention centres surrounded by razor wire and guards. This is a huge step backwards.

Previously, we had seen some children locked up at Dungavel for more than a year and there were damning reports on the level of educational support provided to children at the site. The last thing we need is a return to a situation where young people in the immigration system are treated like cattle, not children.

The Prime Minister needs to scrap her plans to close Cedars and we need urgent assurances that this inhumane decision will not open the door to a return to child detention at Dungavel.

Liberal Democrat Seekers of Sanctuary Chair, Suzanne Fletcher, who visited Cedars as part of an Independent Monitoring Board during the Coalition years, talked about how it provided calm for children at a really stressful time:

Cedars provided an oasis with care and calm at a very traumatic time for those families with children who very sadly were being sent against their will back to their country of origin. Children should never have to be behind the locked doors of a detention centre, and our Government should be ashamed of such a backward step.

Dr Gemma Stockford, an LD4SOS member who is chair of the Gatwick Detainees Visitors Group added:

It is inhumane to incarcerate children and damages them in the long and short term. This is not the way to create harmony between nations and is totally unjustified on practicality or any other grounds. It shows that this government will treat anyone in any way in order to prove how tough they are.

LD4SOS have a series of detailed questions about how exactly the new system will work and how these children will be supported which you can read here.

Barnardos oppose the closure of the facility:

In the five years we have worked with the Home Office to support children and families through the removals process in Cedars, we are pleased that it has been described as an ‘exceptional facility’ and ‘an example of best practice in caring for some of the most vulnerable people subject to immigration control.

However we do not feel that the new proposed accommodation is in the best interests of the children and have told ministers we cannot support the move. We will continue to work with the Home Office until Cedars closes.

The Refugee Council had even stronger words:

The Government’s current practice of detaining children – the majority of who are later released – is harmful, largely ineffective and inexcusable.

The transfer of children and their families from Cedars to Tinsley House, a place even less equipped to care for them adequately, is a troubling retrograde step.

Instead of looking for ways to save money at children’s expense, Ministers must urgently live up to the Government’s promise to end child detention once and for all. Children’s welfare must always come first, regardless of their immigration status.

I’m not a fan of detention for immigration purposes for anyone, but to keep children in a detention centre is utterly unforgivable. I don’t care if it was under-used. Treating people properly costs money and we should have no hesitation about paying whatever it takes to spare children the trauma of being detained.

On page 52 of this international report on the effects of child detention, there is a harrowing account of what happened to one ten year old girl held at Yarl’s Wood and Tinsley House:

JP was assessed again a few days later by an expert psychologist who concluded she was suffering from depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

Another expert found the traumatic incidents JP had experienced, created a range of
impacts including changes in her self-identity, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness,

mood disturbances, overdeveloped avoidance responses, and disassociation as a way to try and push difficult feelings from her mind. This expert observed difficulties in the progress of development, stating that whilst JP ‘seems to be on the cusp of childhood and pre-adolescence… she functions psychologically as a much younger child’.

Sadly, we appear to be going back to these days. How any government can ever justify children being treated like this is beyond me.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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8 Comments

  • Did you actually read the statement?

    “The new pre-departure accommodation will be operated in line with the statutory framework established by the Immigration Act 2014, specifically in relation to the statutory time limit on stays at the facility and the requirement for the Independent Family Returns Panel to be consulted in advance in each case where it is proposed that a family should be placed there.
    The Government met its commitment to end the routine detention of children for immigration purposes by fundamentally changing the way in which it deals with families that have no lawful basis of stay in the UK, and limiting the detention of unaccompanied children for removal. The new family returns model introduced in 2011 placed the welfare of the child at the heart of the process. Key parts of the family returns process, including the separate statutory status of pre-departure accommodation, were enshrined in the Immigration Act 2014. The new pre-departure accommodation will operate in line with both the statutory requirements and the wider family returns process, which will remain unchanged.”

  • “Having Tories in government is a bit like sharing your home with a cat.”

    Surely an insult to cats. I’ve voluntarily shared my house with a number of cats, but I haven’t chosen to live under a Tory Government. I have no doubt which one is worse.

  • Z, yes, I did, and it does not reassure me that these families will be treated with dignity and the children protected from the trauma of detention. The use of a place surrounded with gates and barbed wire is very different from the Cedars which was a much better environment.

  • Stevan Rose 22nd Jul '16 - 8:47pm

    The statement also said “It is very grateful to Barnardo’s for all its valuable work with families at Cedars and for working with us to ensuring that the new facility continues to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, and builds on the learning and experience of Cedars.” This implies Barnados is involved with the new facilities and is at odds with the other quote. My understanding is Barnados has a contract with Cedars to provide services so is not impartial.

    Cedars cost £6.4m to run in 2014-15 but housed just 14 families for an average of 3 nights each, over £450,000 per family. I’m totally in favour of treating these families with dignity but the cost of this facility is absolutely scandalous and indefensible. I presume most of the money went to G4S and Barnados. This kind of profligacy is what fuels UKIP, the Tory Right, and anti-immigration groups. On balance I think the right decision has been taken to close the facility as long as there is a new facility that does what the official statement says, and it isn’t a rollback to pre-Cedars days. There must be a way of providing secure accommodation without the barbed wire and without it costing £150,000 per family per night.

  • suzanne fletcher 22nd Jul '16 - 10:03pm

    you can read quite a bit more about this at http://www.ld4sos.org.uk/archives/747 .
    We need to be clear that a detention centre is a detention centre, is surrounded by barbed wire, and has a regime that is prison like.
    Cedars was not a detention centre, it was Pre Departure Accomodation. It was secure, but fences could not be seen from it. everything about it was to not just make the place pleasant, but it was, as it says above, an oasis of calm before a very traumatic journey. the families in Cedars were there because they did not agree to a return, because they feared for their safety, and so were being removed against their will.
    Barnardos provided the child care in the centre and arranged for training of all staff. they did sterling work with the families, and did what they could to prepare the children for going to a country many of them did not know.
    Barnados have said very clearly that they will not be part of a set up that is inside a detention centre.
    I don’t know where the figures about the number of families who have been through Cedars, above, have come from, but they are not accurate.
    Yes Cedars did cost money. Part of the deal in setting it up was the creation of the Family Returns Panel, to try to encourage voluntary returns, and this was much more succesful than envisaged, hence less people than expected in Cedars. However there could be other routes to being more cost effective, such as being a centre for unaccompanied children arriving in the UK under the new scheme, to get settled in before being placed with a family is just one example.
    But there is no chance of discussion – an announcement on the day parliament rises for the recess is clearly a way they thought it would get hidded. Well it won’t.

  • Richard Underhill 23rd Jul '16 - 10:27am

    Commentators above are well informed and have used accurate language. None of them are suggesting that unaccompanied minors are being removed, none of them are suggesting that any of the children of would be immigrants are criminals. Professional journalists who should know better use the word “deportation” wrongly, it includes a ban on return, legally or illegally.

  • “I don’t know where the figures about the number of families who have been through Cedars, above, have come from, but they are not accurate.”

    If you’ve got more accurate figures than the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration please share your source. He got them from the Home Office, Barnados, and the IFRP. Actually the Telegraph who reported the data performed a journalistic trick by taking a full years costs but 9 months occupancy. If you scale the costs to 9 months you get £4.8 million to house 14 families , £114,000 per family per night, £342,000 per visit. Still a scandalous amount.

    If you want to see all the evidence before jumping to a conclusion I recommend reading: http://icinspector.independent.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/ICIBI-report-on-Removals-17.12.2015.pdf and go to section 4.94 onwards. Actually the rest of the report is quite interesting.

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