Friday, 14 January 2011

Is detention of children our only answer?

Children of asylum seekers are to be given minders and housed with their families in secure accomodation. Despite well publicised pledges by the coalition government that this practice would stop, some have labelled this new practise as rebranding. If children’s detention is to be stopped, this means that detention of the family should also stop. There is little point in detaining adult family members away from their children. Although in Scotland, the practice of sending children and their families to Dungavel has stopped, some families previously living in Scotland were sent to England to be housed either in Yarl’s Wood detention centre or in Tinsley House. Does this feel like window dressing?

The Church of Scotland, has spoken repeatedly against the imprisonment of children and through my parish work, I have been able to see first hand the effect that even the threat of detention can do to the psychological well-being of a child and of the family as a whole.

I want to stress that the integrity of the asylum process must be preserved. This means that it is recognised that the government is entitled to remove families whose asylum applications have exhausted all appeal procedures. Likewise, it must also be recognised that the “returns process” has to be done humanely, with sensitivity and with full respect to the dignity of the people involved.

Must detention and rapid removal be the only alternative? Has the notion of voluntary returns, with some flexibility inbuilt into the process been fully explored? This is not pie in the sky. In Glasgow, the Family Returns project encourages families to return voluntarily. There is evidence that supports that families with children are less likely to abscond if they are allowed to remain within the communities where they have laid down some roots. Initiatives that support the family in voluntarily returning to their country are steps in the right direction.

As far as I am concerned, the culture of detention is not helping matters. The government’s proposals have so far failed to demonstrate creativity or effectiveness in dealing with the safe return of children and their families.

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