A major campaign is underway to generate public and parliamentary support to free the 2,000 children detained in the UK each year for immigration purposes.
The campaign, entitled ‘No Place for a Child: Stop Detaining Children Now!’, was set up by a coalition of organisations including Save the Children UK, Bail for Immigration Detainees, the Refugee Council, the Scottish Refugee Council and the Welsh Refugee Council. The coalition is now calling for as many individuals and organisations as possible to endorse the campaign.
The ‘No Place for a Child’ website states that the detention of children is wrong for the following reasons:
- Children can be held for long periods of time. One child was held for 268 days;
- Children feel that they are being punished and do not understand why. Many are left traumatised by the experience with a negative impact on their health, well-being and education;
- Detention can be particularly traumatic for families who have already fled conflict and torture in their own countries to seek safety in the UK;
- The UK government’s use of detention for children and families is in contravention of international human rights.
Over 2,000 children are held in UK immigration detention each year, for periods of up to 268 days. In March this year, Anne Callaghan of Save the Children UK, who is the campaign coordinator, visited Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire. There, she saw around forty children, including babies, locked away in an isolated centre behind barbed wire fences. Reports in 2005 by Al Aynsley-Green, the Children’s Commissioner for England, and Anne Owers, Chief Inspector of Prisons, were clear in their findings that Yarl’s Wood was an unfit place for children to grow and develop. (see IRR News story: Challenging detention of children)
Plan of action
The campaign, which began at the end of March and will run until July, urges supporters to write postcards and emails which will be gathered together and sent to MPs and the Home Secretary. The deadline for these is 30 June 2006.
The website provides a large amount of information about the detention of children and stories from those who have been detained, which raises the issues of self-harm, emotional trauma, deterioration in health and the disruption of a child’s education whilst in detention.
Elaine, who fled Togo in 2001, was detained with her son while she was pregnant with another child. She told ‘No Place for a Child’ her story:
‘I will never forget the feeling of being in detention. I was always tired and ill. I didn’t sleep. My son was always crying, he didn’t want to go to the school there. He told me, “Mum, this is not school.” … He still has nightmares, until today. He is afraid of knocking on the door, and he is even afraid when letters arrive. One year later and he is afraid of letters. It is so scary … It is not an easy place for children to stay. Everyday they check you like someone who has committed murder. It is like a prison, it is not good for children.’