Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Child detention is a scandal – it must end now.

Despite the new UK coalition government agreeing to end the detention of children for immigration purposes, it now appears that it will still be some months before we can see this policy come into effect.

Today we have the news that although Dungavel will no longer hold children, people who would have been held there will instead be sent hundreds of miles south to Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre in England.

I think this is a fudge. First they promise something, and the spin-doctors are out pushing it. Then we hear that there will be a delay of several months whilst conversations are held with stakeholders before an agreement is reached.
Well, this stakeholder wants his voice to be heard – This Must Stop. Now. Not in a few months. Immediately. The government coalition partners talked about the need for a new politics and a new way of doing things. So far all we have had is statements and no action.

Of course it is good news to welcome the intent of the Government work to end the detention of children and families seeking sanctuary, but many people feel let down that after the initial announcement of the policy there are children still being held in what are effectively prisons, despite having done nothing wrong.
So we need to be cautious before making statements welcoming the end of child detention prematurely.
We also need to know answers to these questions:

  • When will the Government tell us what their instruction to the Border Agency will be on this? How soon will the practice of detaining children and families cease? Will they Government set a target date, for implementing their policy? Locking up innocent children is a scandal and urgent action is necessary. There should be no delay.
  • What alternatives to detention are being considered, and will they protect the dignity of the children and families of those seeking sanctuary?
  • How can the asylum system be improved to make the needs and wellbeing of children paramount?

Managing asylum is a complicated business. Iain Duncan Smith’s think tank wrote a report, Asylum Matters, 18 months ago, which clearly makes the point for a radical shape up of the system, and that there are alternatives to detention that work. He’s now in the cabinet.

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