Medical Justice : "‘State Sponsored Cruelty’: Children in immigration detention” - 09/09/10

Dossier of medical evidence backs Clegg’s claim: child detention is ‘state sponsored cruelty’

UK Borders Agency defy Clegg and continue immigration detention of children

 Nick Clegg branded the immigration detention of children as ‘state sponsored cruelty’.

On 21st July 2010 Nick Clegg said that Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre would close . 

The next day the UK Borders Agency confirmed that Yarl’s Wood would close for the detention of children .

Despite Nick Clegg’s announcement, UKBA have detained children at Yarl’s Wood as recently as Monday.

Today Medical Justice publishes its report “‘State Sponsored Cruelty’: Children in immigration detention”, presenting the key findings from the UK’s first large scale investigation into the harms caused by detaining children for immigration purposes.

“The fact that UKBA is still detaining children at Yarl’s Wood despite announcements to the contrary raises serious questions about the consistency between the will of government and the actions of UKBA. The government must now show it is in control of UKBA. It must order and ensure the release of any detained children today and stop what the Deputy Prime Minister correctly refers to as ‘state sponsored cruelty’. The dossier of evidence we are publishing brings to light the extent to which detaining children cases harm, suffering, and anguish. Children have attempted to end their own lives, and have been left seriously physically and psychologically damaged ”.
Jon Burnett, Medical Justice, author of “‘State Sponsored Cruelty’: Children in immigration detention”

“It makes one wonder if Nick Clegg actually knows that his civil servants have been locking children up in Yarl’s Wood.  The government needs to get a grip on UKBA. New schemes supposedly aimed at avoiding detention seem to not actually exclude detention. There is no operational guidance documentation for the new schemes and it seems that UKBA are just making it up as they go along, culminating in children being imprisoned.”
Emma Ginn, Medical Justice

Medical Justice is a small charity that arranges for independent doctors to visit detainees in Immigration Removal Centres around the UK to document their scars of torture and/or help detainees to challenge instances of what they claim to be a denial of adequate healthcare in detention.  Its ‘State Sponsored Cruelty’ report published today presents key findings from the UK’s first large scale investigation into the harms caused by detaining children.

Key findings of this report - 141 cases are featured in this report involving children detained between 2004 and April 2010. These children spent a mean average of 26 days each in immigration detention. One child had spent 166 days in detention, over numerous separate periods, before her third birthday. 48% of the children in this report were born in the UK. The report found that:

• 74 children were psychologically harmed. Symptoms included bed wetting and loss of bowel control, heightened anxiety, and food refusal. 34 children exhibited signs of developmental regression, and six children expressed suicidal ideation either whilst in or after they were detained. Three girls attempted to end their own lives.

• 23 children would not eat food for a period of time. UKBA have admitted that some detainees were being offered food beyond its ‘best before’ date. Some children lost significant amounts of weight.

• 48 children were reported to have witnessed violence, mostly during attempts to remove them from the UK, and 13 were physically harmed as a result of violence in detention.

• 92 children had physical health problems which were exacerbated, or caused by immigration detention, including fever, vomiting, abdominal pains, diarrhoea, musculoskeletal pain, and coughing up blood. 50 of these children were reported to have received inadequate healthcare in detention including failures to recognise medical needs, failures to make appropriate referrals, and delays in treating. Some children were left in severe pain.

• Despite official guidelines that children should be given appropriate protection from infectious diseases such as malaria, malaria, tuberculosis, and yellow fever, there were concerns in 50 cases about failures in this respect. Some children were alleged to have been administered inappropriate and dangerous malarial prophylaxis in attempts to ensure their removal from the country. 

• 73 adults were reported to have been suffering to such an extent that it was affecting their ability to care for their children. Many of these parents were assessed by independent doctors who verified injuries consistent with claims of torture. Numerous parents expressed suicidal ideation and were self-harming.

• 38 children were separated from their families, sometimes after parents were put in isolation having voiced concerns about the way their children were being treated. Some children were removed from their parents and taken into care whilst their parents were detained. Some parents were separated from their children for weeks.

“We welcome the report from Medical Justice as it highlights again the harmful effect that administrative detention has on the physical and psychological health of children and young people.
The coalition government’s promise to end the detention of children for administrative purposes is well received.  However, together with Medical Justice, we call on the government to make this pledge a reality, and in particular to do so in a way that does not separate families and that puts the welfare of children first.
We encourage the UKBA to embrace their new statutory duty to safeguard children, and ensure that cases are properly reviewed.”
Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health

Royal College of Psychiatrists

Royal College of General Practitioners

Confusion regarding the continued detention of children has been heightened by UKBA setting up a series of “pilot” projects which seek to remove children from the UK without the use of detention. However, these projects do not seem to actually exclude the detention of children. These projects have been subjected to little public scrutiny, and portend the continuation of various damaging practices. Accounts from around the country suggest that "pilots" vary in how they are implemented in different regions. No operational guidance documentation for the schemes has been published for UKBA staff that families, their legal representatives, and those with a responsibility for safeguarding children can inspect.

Medical Justice is concerned about how the “pilots” can be properly evaluated as they seem to lack consistency, look poorly planned and instable. UKBA cannot provide any evaluation plan. UKBA officials have said that the ending of detention of children is contingent on the success of the alternatives being piloted – i.e. removals from the UK. We fear that the “pilots” are set up to fail and that their failure will be used to justify a return to detaining children, or rather a continuation of detention of children without having tried any alternatives in any meaningful way. Meanwhile, There have been reports that UKBA have ordered the refurbishing 4 rooms at Tinsley House Immigration Removal Centre at Gatwick Airport for the detention of children.

In Australia, a pledge to end the detention of children was made some years ago but they are again detaining children. It appears that something similar may happen here.

Detaining children provides a sizeable an industry for the private companies who run detention centres. Detaining a family of four for between 4 and 8 weeks costs over £20,000. However, as a means of removing people from the UK it is largely ineffective ; 62% of the children included in this report were released back into the community and some now have leave to remain in the UK, begging the question why they were detained in the first place.

UKBA’s policy enabling forced removals without notice of unaccompanied children and people considered a suicide risk was ruled unlawful by the High Court following legal action by Medical Justice .  UKBA are appealing the decision, signalling their determination regain their power to arrest unaccompanied children in the middle of the night and transport them under guard to an airport a few hours later and denying them an opportunity to contact a lawyer.

“‘State Sponsored Cruelty’: Children in immigration detention” sets out why the detention of children must be abolished immediately, and subjects to scrutiny harmful measures which be used to remove children in the future.

Medical Justice demands the immediate release of any detained children and their families, and that the government sends in a team from the HM Inspector of Prisons to oversee an immediate decommissioning of all facilities for the immigration detention of children.  Our collation of findings of medical evidence justifies calls for a full public inquiry investigating how UK immigration policy led to the routine detention of children for the purposes of immigration control, the harm that this policy caused, and how UKBA seem to have violated the substance of government announcements.

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Download the 16-page summary report

Download the 84-page full report