I’ve been off this blog for a good while as you will have noticed. Busy with the International Petition to Stop School League Tables for Five Year Olds  (if you haven’t signed yet, do consider it.) It was featured in Nursery World this week:

 Nursery World article on Stop School League Tables for Five Year Olds International Petition

I’d been wondering how to pick up on this news blog once more after such a long time – but then realised that a very important High Court Judgement was served this week – highly relevant to the issues around child detention that campaigners have been dragging into the light of print (and screen) for many years. An end to child detention? Read this analysis of the High Court judgement written by Simon Parker:

“In the High Court on Tuesday, Mr Justice Wyn Williams might have driven the last nail into the coffin of Britain’s infamous and long-running child immigration detention policy. The detaining of children for immigration purposes has been denounced as a ‘scandal’ and a ‘moral outrage’ by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, yet the current Home Secretary has spared no expense in expertly and robustly defending the policy…

see..Open Democracy for the rest of this piece:

I’ve been unable to write on this blog lately. My excuses include completing a chapter for a book on the English Early Years Education system that I was asked to write some time ago as a result of my work on the blog: “A Parents’ Guide to the Early Years Foundation Stage”.  It’s finished and submitted now. The plan is the chapter will be one of several written by internationally known childhood campaigners.

‘Childhood campaigners’. A loose kind of term – which could include those who notice (and try to address) the moral bankruptcy surrounding government inaction on child detention.

Here are some of them – writers, novelists and playwrights:

Clare Sambrook – deconstructing what the government is NOT doing about Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre – the Liberal Democrats must fight to salvage their promise to end the detention of children for immigration purposes’…

Michael Morpurgo. His new book ‘Shadow’ is fiction for truth-telling…of Afghanistan, immigration detention and Yarl’s Wood.

Shadow by Michael Morpurgo

and the playwright Natasha Walter who wrote ‘Motherland’.

At the moment, it seems the pre-election coalition government pledge to end child detention is sounding hollow. Instead of stopping the detention of children, they appear to be planning simply to deport families instead.

Today, the government pilots a fast track scheme to deport immigrant families (the e-magazine Children and Young People reports).

The move presents serious and far-reaching questions for those charities and organisations like Quakers who demanded an end to child detention.

Following leaks to the Socialist Worker the Guardian reports today:

“Children in immigration centres face deportation within weeks…

“Immigration officials charged with carrying out the government’s pledge to end the detention of children in immigration centres have launched a scheme designed to deport them and their families from the country within weeks.

The move dashes expectations of a more liberal alternative to child detention. Families with children facing removal are to be given a two-week ultimatum to leave the country voluntarily, according to a document seen by the Guardian”

See also: The Guardian report

Socialist Worker Exclusive: Tories and secret plans to deport children (report on leaked UKBA documents).

Amongst the tragic litany of human rights failings at Yarl’s Wood comes this news release I received from Clare Sambrook today. She attached a PDF file of the Executive summary of an independent review by Befordshire local safeguarding children board.

Clare’s copy follows:

The report exposes litany of failings by: Local authority managers, Local authority social workers Local police, Local GP UKBA’s ‘Children’s Champion’ and Serco.

Commenting on the report, Malcolm Stevens, former senior government advisor on Social Services said: ‘Yarl’s Wood failed these children. Here is evidence of whole system failure in and around Yarl’s Wood. This calls into question whether the children there now are being properly looked after. It calls into question the competence of UKBA to conduct the current review into arrangements for children. The government urgently needs to appoint someone with independence, experience and professional competence to run the Review into ending child detention.’
Malcolm Stevens, Justicecare Solutions.

Among the failings:

The Local Authority learned of evidence that children below the age of criminal responsibility engaged in sexual activity but failed to carry out complex enquiries in respect of two families, under section 47, Children Act, 1989.

The local authorities’ managers and social workers misunderstood the significance which should attach to the age of criminal responsibility

They misunderstood the concept of “consent” believing in error that such young children could be consensually involved in sexual activity.

They failed to investigate concerns that older children may also have been involved in the sexual abuse of a child, and that these older young people might pose a continuing threat to other detainees.

The local authority social workers:
failed to interview the mother of a child said to have been abused;
failed to liaise adequately with other agencies;
failed to carry out appropriate checks with other localities;
failed adequately to secure police involvement in the enquiries.

The police:
inappropriately terminated their inquiries without reference to specialist child protection officers.

The GP failed to recognise that this was a child protection situation, failed to ensure that the child was seen by a paediatrician.

UKBA’s ‘Children’s Champion’ failed to challenge the decisions made by local statutory agencies.

UKBA failed to brief ministers properly: ‘UKBA provided information, on the basis of which a ministerial decision was made affecting the continued detention of children,’ says the report: ‘Although that factual information included reference to the incident leading to this review, there was no evaluation of the impact that this incident had on the propriety of detention.’

Children were failed by the UKBA / Bedfordshire Council arrangements for safeguarding: ‘This Service did not challenge the weaknesses and confusion inherent in the approach of the local authorities and GP,’ says the report. ‘This raises concerns about the effectiveness of these arrangements and suggests the role of the workers within the Service should be reviewed.’

Vulnerable children fell through the gap in regulatory arrangements. ‘. . It appears that no single agency has an adequate overarching responsibility for regulation of services to children in immigration detention,’ says the report.

The report makes stringent and detailed recommendations whose severity highlights the degree and multiplicity of failures of care in this case.

Eg SERCO should:

a) ensure that it can discharge its specific duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, in a way that is not solely reliant on other agencies, and includes an assessment of a child’s welfare needs and any risks posed to or by that child.

b) review arrangements for joint working with Bedford Borough Council to ensure that there are clear systems for feedback to residents of the IRC detained with children, the outcome of any Bedford Borough Council involvement, including options for taking the matter further if the resident remains dissatisfied.

c) review the form and use of Keeping Children Safe from Harm documents. The review should take account of the Common Assessment Framework.

SERCO Healthcare should ensure that medical practitioners and other health staff providing services at the IRC are aware of their responsibility to ensure they are familiar with and follow local child protection arrangements including the need to consult a paediatric specialist.

END CHILD DETENTION NOW

End of copy.

I vowed to post once a week on this blog and have kept it up so far with the exception of last month. Rest assured readers – if you don’t see me here for a while I’m dealing with some other journalistic work generally relevant to the issues at hand.

There appears to be some movement in the coalition agreements as far as the detention of immigrant children is concerned. See these latest reports on the Coalition Agreement to end the detention of immigrant children from the magazine “Children and Young People Now”.

See also: Coalition government urged not to split up asylum-seeking families.

In this VisionOntv video – released on YouTube just eight hours ago – representatives of the organisation “London No Borders” and SOAS detainee support group give eye witness accounts of conditions at Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre. They have been visiting each week and explain how important it is to support a strike and how this strike and previous strikes have changed government policy and contracts.

London No Borders website can be found at this link:

London No Borders

 

Women Asylum Seekers Together Banner. Wednesday 24th. March. Manchester

I travelled to Manchester yesterday to attend an event organised by “Women Asylum Seekers Together” (WAST).
 
 There were about 200 people there. We watched a play called “How I became an Asylum Seeker” by Lydia Besong and attended a workshop afterwards. As you can see from the WAST website, the High Court has recently ordered that Lydia is not be removed from the U.K. 
 
I’m not content with writing a single blog post about this event – there is so much to say about it and I need to order my thoughts – wait for more photographs – and sort my papers out. I’m aware that lots of people reading this blog might appreciate having this information quickly though – so I’ve decided to do a whole series of reflective posts about the organisation involved, about the play, what we talked about and how I think it relates to the events of the past six weeks at Yarl’s Wood and my previous posts.
The event was billed as awareness-raising and a professional and reflective development opportunity. I’m going to kick off in this first blog post of the series with some background about the organisation: “Women Asylum Seekers Together”.
 
Women Asylum Seekers Together was “founded in 2005 following the initiative of “failed” asylum seeking women whose applications for asylum had come to the end of their legal process and who faced potential deportation.
  
This group of women came from diverse backgrounds. Some belonged to poor families back home while others came from a more privileged background, some had never been to school, while others had received university education, some were still in their teens while others were already grandmothers. They spoke a number of different languages and belonged to a number of African and Asian countries.
  
Their reasons for fleeing their countries were as varied too. The list was long and bleak. Domestic violence, rape, political affiliation, the threat of honour killing, forced marriage, Female Genital Mutilation, sexual orientation e.t.c
  
But what had brought these women together was the fact that they had all been persecuted in their own countries, often because they were women in societies that did not accept the rights of women, their governments and in most cases their own families had not been willing or able to offer them protection and they had not received the protection and the support they had come searching for in the U.K.” (WAST).

Tuesday 16th. March, 2010
To: Mr. John Lyon
Officer of the Parliamentary Commission for Standards
House of Commons
SW1A OAA

Dear Sir,

We should like to make a joint citizen’s complaint regarding the content of a letter sent by Meg Hillier to all M.P’s. We feel Meg Hillier has misled our elected representatives in this matter and would like to point out the following statement in Meg Hillier’s letter in particular as a cause for concern:

“I should make it clear that detention is only used when people have refused to leave the country voluntarily despite support being offered for them to do so, and we have to enforce that removal. Detention is a vital tool in the removal of failed asylum seekers, ex-foreign national prisoners and others whose application to stay have been fully considered by the UK borders agency and the independent courts, BUT HAVE FAILED”.

In this statement to parliament Meg implies that all the people in Yarl’s Wood have failed in their court cases. This is misleading. Not just for Members of Parliament – but for the general public. In the second letter attached – (see references in the second letter attached and addressed to Frances Laing) Meg Hillier openly admits that Verna Joseph for example ‘won’ her case in January. Despite the fact that the Home Office is appealing on Verna’s case – Verna is therefore not someone who has “failed” in the courts as Meg Hillier seeks to imply.

Put simply we believe someone who has won their appeal at tribunal cannot accurately be described as having failed in the courts. We believe Verna is not the only detainee in this situation and that Meg’s statement to parliament is therefore simply untrue. We feel our elected representatives have a particular duty to provide the general public with accurate information. As citizens and in the current climate, we feel it is very important to guard against perpetuating stereotypes of this nature. We thank you for considering this matter.

Yours faithfully,
Frances Laing
p.p. Joan Meredith.

Updates on the Yarl’s Wood hunger strike and the fast track asylum process.

According to the Guardian/ Observer online:

“Sonya Sceats, a spokeswoman for one charity that carries out medical assessments for the government, told the Observer: “It’s very clear there is a systemic and increasing problem here. The corollary of …dismissal of independent medical evidence is that the protection [asylum] claim is invariably rejected and this means a survivor of torture is at risk of being returned to further torture or at risk of detention.”

The allegations come in the wake of strong criticism last week of the UK Border Agency, which was condemned for failing to investigate claims of mistreatment by failed asylum seekers in abuse allegations up to July 2008. Ministers now plan to review the use of force against asylum seekers by British security guards after a Border Agency report on abuse conceded that serious injuries were suffered by detainees who had been handcuffed or physically restrained”.

For the full article see this link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/mar/14/asylum-torture-evidence-ignored

A link to Diane Abott’s article in the Guardian today: The Real Distress at Yarl’s Wood. Diane refers to Meg Hillier’s recent letter. She writes she visited Yarl’s Wood herself and raised concerns  in 2007.

See also: Yarl’s Wood the Legal Challenge

The Observer has gathered a series of testimonies from detainees inside the Bedfordshire centre who claimed they had witnessed women being beaten and injured during a disturbance this month. See this article:

Immigration Officers to be investigated as detainees ‘beaten’ by guards

Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers is to represent Yarl’s Wood women in a bid for a judicial review. See this Guardian piece: Immigration Lawyers criticise government and this piece

Yarls’ Wood. A disgrace by Phil Shiner and colleague.

Yesterday as mentioned in my blog post – and in response to the question I had forwarded to David Hanson yesterday – the Home Office Press Office continued to be attentive – although not at all friendly. They phoned me three times in all – asking aggressively ‘where I had got my information from’ (the hunger strikers, I said – interview published in “The Friend” online, I said, would they like me to send them a link…?) in the last call at ten o’clock at night they finally answered my query with a feeble “we don’t comment on individual cases”.

Of course this is not simply about an individual case.  I’m due to write a comment piece for the print version of “The Friend” the international Quaker weekly journal for Monday and so I’ll come back to this point.

This morning The Guardian headline reads: Immigration bosses to be quizzed after asylum seekers were ‘beaten’ by guards – “Senior Home Office officials will be questioned this week over allegations that women inside Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre were assaulted by staff using riot shields”. 

So there was the EDM and now the incidents in question are firmly on the parliamentary agenda. The article even mentions the possibility of a police investigation.

See The Friend” articles to date “Voices of the Hunger Strikers” and “A matter of conscience – Yarl’s Wood”.

Read the Guardian article at this link: Immigration bosses to be quizzed after asylum seekers were ‘beaten’ by guards.