Liberal Democrats thanked for ending child detention for immigration purposes

Celebrating the end of child detention with Citizens UK #LDConf
Photo: Helen Duffett on Flickr.

One of the highlights of Conference so far was a warm, emotional and bright interlude yesterday when Citizens UK (@citizensuk on Twitter) took to the stage to thank the Liberal Democrats for ending child detention for immigration purposes.

A line of smiling children and young people,who had got up at 5 am, filled the stage holding gold balloons spelling out a message of thanks.

Nick Clegg & Sarah Teather accepted flowers and thanks. Nick paid tribute to Sarah’s work in ending child detention and Sarah acknowledged that there was still much work to be done on the immigration system. She thanked Citizens UK, saying that Liberal Democrats instinctively supported ending child detention but that their motivation had given ministers food for the journey.

I was lucky to spend an hour with them afterwards which turned out to be one of the most inspiring hours I have ever spent at a Liberal Democrat conference. If a tiny bit of their positivity could make its way into our political culture, it would do us all a lot of good. They wouldn’t take no for an answer when the notoriously inflexible UK Borders Agency refused to discuss their concerns on the treatment of children. They pitched up at UKBA HQ with a van and a couple of nuns who served cups of tea to the staff and didn’t leave till they had talks with senior officials. Procedures have changed as a result of their intervention.

Much still needs to change in immigration policy and practice. If you want to learn more about their work, they will be at St Paul’s Church on West Street (go out of Conference Centre, turn left, exit turnstiles and turn left again at Odeon cinema) between 4 and 6 pm. They invite us to meet people who are going through the asylum system and hear their experiences.

After that, at 6:15 pm, they will be helping to launch Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary, discussing “After the ending of child detention, what next?” in the same venue.

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

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This entry was posted in Conference and News.


  • Caron,

    Why do home office stats say that children are still being detained for immigration purposes?

    “In the second quarter of 2012 60 children entered detention, up from a low point of 19 in the first quarter of 2011, but remaining much lower than the peak of 322 in the third quarter of 2009.”

    Child detention for immigration purposes has not ended, I do not understand why people continue to say that it has.

  • Matt – for how long, in what conditions and for what reason?

    There is a world of difference between 24-48 hours in comfortable family friendly settings and Labour’s policy of locking families up at Yarl’s Wood for an indefinate period and hoping people just forgot about them.

  • Peter Watson 24th Sep '12 - 5:27pm

    I think Matt is making the point that we are claiming to have ended child detention. We are not claiming to have made it more comfortable.

  • Undoubtedly – it was a silly claim to try to make as you only need to have to detain one family for one night and you’ve failed (and no-one can ever say that wouldn’t be needed).

  • The answer seems to be that families are no longer being detained – they are being “[required] to stay in ‘pre-departure accommodation’ “:

  • @ Hywel 24th Sep ’12 – 4:22pm
    “Matt – for how long, in what conditions and for what reason?”

    I posted the links to some of the information. And it was reported in the news only weeks ago,

    Most of the detainee’s took place in Tinsley House which is a “detention centre” where people are locked up.

    The point is you can not claim child detention has ended when it simply is not true.

    How long do you propose holding children in detention as being acceptable?

  • Aren’t Barnados now involved in providing support for families in detention – and have some pretty demanding criteria which must continue to be me for their involvement to continue.

    Length of time – I’d say around 72 hours. Effectively a “next available flight” time limit.

    To turn it around – how do you maintain a deportation policy (which I’m not aware anyone is arguing we should not have) without the power to detain deportees when proportionately required?

  • I have no idea about Barnado’s.

    My point is though the party should not be saying that Child detention has ended when it simply isn’t true.

    Maybe 72 Hours is acceptable, however, if this is the case, then this should become policy and Liberal Democrats would be able to say “No child will be held in detention for more than “x” amount of days whilst waiting to be deported.

    The party will not regain any credibility when it makes such “bold claims” as “ended” when the news reports otherwise.
    That is what turns the public off politics when people try and take them for fools, especially in this day and age and after all the scandals in politics.

  • Odd that you had no idea that Barnados was (effectively) running a pre-deportation detention centre but are very well informed on statistics to batter the Lib Dems with. I’m surprised that someone with an interest in the subject was unaware of that. Maybe you were just reading a briefing that only had part of the story 🙂

    I’ve no problem with very short term detention of families when necessary, proporationate and in extremely well regulated facilities. Compared to the abomination that was Yarls Wood and Labour’s “well they’re only illegal immigrants who really cares” policy I’d hope that people would agree it was a vast improvement.

  • @Hywel

    “Odd that you had no idea that Barnados was (effectively) running a pre-deportation detention centre but are very well informed on statistics to batter the Lib Dems with. I’m surprised that someone with an interest in the subject was unaware of that. Maybe you were just reading a briefing that only had part of the story ”

    Not really. I am “informed” of the statistics because I “follow” the news. And when I see stories about child detention continues, I can not understand why Clegg and the party continue to claim that child detention has ended because it is obviously untrue.

    But since you mentioned Barnado’s I decided to search and came up with the following

    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

    Most of the detainee’s took place at Tinsley House detention centre near Gatwick, which is not contracted out to Barnado’s.

    I am not making argument for the sake of it. I make an argument based on the facts and sources available and I would disagree with ANY party that makes claims which turn out to be untrue.

  • And incidentally If Cameron and the Tories kept making the claim that they had ended Child Detention on Conservative Home Blogg, I would be pointing out their lies also. But the difference is, the Tories do not make such a claim

  • If the very real improvements, and these are definitely something to be proud of, are lost by over spinning this will be a lost good news story. “We have limited child detention to x hours immediately prior to deportation and ensured that when used it is in a comfortable environment” may not be as sexy, but it would be respected. Comparing numbers to Labours record, 322 down to 60 is good, looking at the stats using averages would appear even better. It isn’t zero but perhaps it never can be ????

    Labour only need to highlight the factual error in the claim for the good news to be tainted.

  • @Steve Way

    I agree entirely, Governments should be praised, where praise is due.

    If Governments and Parties as a whole where honest in their claims, then we would not have all these issues.

    Clegg talked of “openness” in his speech to conference and for that to have any legs, then he has to cut out all the spin and the distortion of the facts.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 27th Sep '12 - 8:04am

    What is indisputable is that families are no longer detained for months at a time in horrible places like Yarls’ Wood. Imprisoning children like that was an outrage and the recognition from Citizens UK that this was at an end due to the Liberal Democrats was welcome.

    As was the acknowledgement by Liberal Democrats that we have a long way to go to make the immigration system fair and compassionate, but this is a landmark achievement, especially given that neither of the other parties wanted to do it.

  • @Caron Lindsay

    Whilst it is obviously an improvement and very welcome that children are no longer detained at Yarl’s Wood.
    The same could not be said for Tinsley House.
    The Majority of children were detained there, could you tell us, how many and for how long?
    1 week
    1 month etc
    I am not knocking the improvements Libdems have made. It is a good thing, but it is not right to say child detention has ended, when it clearly has not.
    An update on the amount of time these children were detained at Tinsley House would enable us to getter a better picture on how far the policy has come and what still needs to be done

  • I’ve only just been able to read these comments, but a few more from me now.
    It is important to note that the “Thank You” came from Citizens UK, involving and working with the asylum community, and not a self congratulatory session instigated by the Lib Dems.
    The pledge was written by Citizens UK, and they asked candidates from all parties in the general election to sign it. Obviously not all did, but it was the same pledge for all.
    Cedars is “Pre Departure Accomodation” not a detention centre, and nobody without personal permission from the Home Secretary is there for more than 72 hours.
    I’ve visited Cedars, met with the Barnado’s staff, and am reassured that the facilities are very good, and the help and support from Barnado’s is also very good.
    Citizens UK are setting up an independent monitoring panel to ensure that instances of any departure from what was intended is picked up and dealt with so it does not repeat itself.

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