Sarah Teather: Coalition is committed to ending child detention

There has been some speculation that the Government is prepared to walk back on its commitment to end child detention.

I want to say, clearly and on the record, this is not the case.

Nick Clegg has rightly described the locking up of children for immigration purposes as a moral outrage. More than 1,000 children were detained in this way during Labour’s last year in government, often for months on end.

Today, the charity Medical Justice has published a report documenting the physical and psychological harm that children suffer in prolonged detention. It makes grim reading. They studied 141 cases since 2004 and found that just over half had suffered some form of psychological harm, including three girls who attempted suicide. They also found the majority had physical problems that were caused or exacerbated by their detention.

This will not be allowed to continue.

Before the election the Liberal Democrats were the only party calling for this disgraceful practice to be stopped and that commitment was written into the coalition agreement. And Nick Clegg has already announced the closure of the family detention facilities at Yarl’s Wood.

The question now is how we bring this practice to an end. That is what the Government is looking at right now.

We have to be careful not to rush into this as we are dealing with the safety and well-being of often vulnerable children and it is essential it is done properly.

But rest assured it will be done.

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18 Comments

  • Malcolm Todd 9th Sep '10 - 3:48pm

    I would love to “rest assured”, but – non-stories in the Guardian aside – there are reasons to be anxious. The immigration minister has not been quite so unequivocal as Lib Dem members of the government; and there is, in the end, no good reason to continue with the detention of children for even a single day. What could the consequences of a “rushed” decision to release every child from immigration detention centres now possibly be? Can it possibly be worse than the damage being done to those children, and the children that will continue to come into detention over the coming weeks and months, until the Home office is ready to announce its decision?

    This really is not that difficult. Release all the families affected now. Issue a directive that no more children are to be detained for immigration reasons. Then work on alternatives for dealing with deportation of families. Perhaps the answers will even come to home office minds a little quicker if “business as usual” is not the default position.

  • Ben Johnson 9th Sep '10 - 3:51pm

    I agree that the comments from the Immigration Minister are not very reassuring.

    This is a genuine test for the libdems in government. Let us hope that Sarah Teather is right and that they pass it!

  • Saying the coalition is “committed to ending child detention” is not the same as saying that the coalition will “ensure the ending of child detention”.

  • Thank Christ for that!!!

    I was spitting feathers when I saw the Guardian story.

    Well done Sarah for getting the rebuttal in so quick – very much appreciated.

    Please can we have an indication of when this policy will actually come into force? I appreciate the reasons for not rushing this, but we should really get a move on.

  • It probably isn’t as bad as i think it is, but nearly every LibDem policy seems to be subject to studies, commitee’s and referendums. Why can’t the conservatives just ban the awful practice of locking up innocent children.

  • Patrick Smith 9th Sep '10 - 5:21pm

    The ending of child detention at Yarl`s Wood is anathema to Human Rights policy but I undestand that the centre will retain a role for detained women.If that is so,I would ask would any threat to the mother/child bonding be at issue?

  • I think that a measured approach is right.. that’s why I voted lib dem knowing it would likely cause a coalition so that we could have a measured rather than knee jerk reaction to some of these issues. The detention of children is bad but it is a fact that some people will use any loop hole they can to avoid having to follow the law. The response needs to be fair and not put you or I at more risk from crime, terrorism or benefit cheats. Remember why these families are detained in the first place is not simply for convenience or as a punishment but to protect honest society from potential harm.

  • I was shocked to read Damien Green,s remarks. This is an explicit commitment in the Coalition agreement. If there is any hint of backsliding then the Minister must go. Our Liverpool Conference gives us an opportunity to declare in an emergency motion that this commitment to end (not minimise) the detention of children for immigration purposes is non’negotiable. If we abandon this pledge – and for me it was a crunch item- we might as well bury the Coalition.

  • “The question now is how we bring this practice to an end. That is what the Government is looking at right now.”

    Don’t you just unlock the door? Or am I missing something

  • Andrew Suffield 9th Sep '10 - 7:42pm

    What could the consequences of a “rushed” decision to release every child from immigration detention centres now possibly be? Can it possibly be worse than the damage being done to those children, and the children that will continue to come into detention over the coming weeks and months, until the Home office is ready to announce its decision?

    Actually it could. If you just shove them out onto the street, when they have no (legal) means to provide for themselves, no legitimate claims on benefits, and little or no grasp of English, most of them will probably starve. You do have to at least make some kind of arrangements for housing and feeding them.

    (As usual, the government bureaucracy gets things done far slower and at far higher cost than it should, but that’s nothing new)

  • Anthony Aloysius St 9th Sep '10 - 7:49pm

    Andrew

    There really isn’t anything you won’t defend, is there?

  • Malcolm Todd 9th Sep '10 - 8:08pm

    Andrew

    These families haven’t been in detention since they arrived in the UK, you know. They have — or at least they had — somewhere to live, schools to go to, some level of support (however inadequate). They’re not being locked up for their own benefit. For that matter, given that the policy hasn’t yet been changed, UKBA are clearly continuing to lock people up, not just failing to release those they were already holding.

    Besides which, it’s clear that the delay isn’t while the government works out how to support people in the community; they’re refusing to open the doors until they’ve decided what the new policy is going to be. (And that probably means: until they can come up with something which is as much like locking children up as it can be without putting the coalition at risk. I only hope that’s a high bar.)

  • @Andrew

    OK – but that doesn’t stop them unlocking the doors and saying you can leave if you want or stay in Yarls wood until we find somewhere for you to go.

    Sorting them out with whatever benefits asylum seekers get shouldn’t be any sort of problem

  • Andrew Suffield 10th Sep '10 - 7:52am

    They have — or at least they had — somewhere to live, schools to go to, some level of support (however inadequate). They’re not being locked up for their own benefit.

    And some of them don’t, probably as a result of having been locked up for so long. Which is why you can’t just shove them out the door overnight.

    Sorting them out with whatever benefits asylum seekers get shouldn’t be any sort of problem

    They aren’t asylum seekers, they’re illegal immigrants (and their children). Extending benefits to people who have no legal ability to stay or work in the country, and who should already have left, is probably not going to happen. Realistically, most of them will be getting deported as soon as arrangements can be made.

  • Malcolm Todd 10th Sep '10 - 8:49am

    Andrew, you are absolutely and spectacularly continuing to miss the point. The detention of children is not continuing because the authorities can’t work out how to prevent them falling into destitution on their release. It’s continuing because the policy is still to detain children until they can be deported. We’re not just talking about legacy cases, left over from May or June: UKBA continues to bring children into detention and will continue to do so until the policy changes. There is absolutely no practical or moral reason why that cannot stop right now; and ensuring that those who are released from existing detention are not simply “shoved out the door” with nowhere to go would, given the numbers involved, be a piece of piss.

  • More power to your elbow.

    Come on Libs show your caring side. .john

  • So we go into coalition with a commitment to end child detention. The tories agree by swapping child detention for child deportation.

    Naive, huh?

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