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U.K.: Fight to Keep Children Out of Immigration Detention Centres

A picture of M

Late last year a group of U.K. citizens launched a simple campaign to end the detention of children and babies by immigration authorities. The campaign, called End Child Detention Now (ECDN), has since been backed by some high-profile British figures and the group has quickly gathered names for its petition to the U.K. government, nearly 4,600 at the time of writing. In February, I joined the group to help with online campaigning.

The U.K. is the only European country to detain children of asylum seekers without a time limit: around 2000 each year, some for months at a time. Other countries have already taken action — Australia, for example, has pledged never to put another child in a detention center.

The ECDN volunteer-led campaign is also raising awareness of cases where children are treated like adults when they are actually under 18. This month, a 14-year-old boy from Afghanistan, ‘M’ (name protected for legal reasons), was mistaken for an adult, arrested and was about to be deported from the U.K., before a judge ordered his release, pending a full judicial review hearing [pictured above, with his elder brother]. 

Writing on the Web site OpenDemocracy campaign co-coordinator Clare Sambrook shares M's story, as well as that of 17-year-old Rima, who fled religious persecution in Eritrea. Expanding on Rima's story she says:

Rima fled, moved from house to house, lived rough until twelve months ago when Alison and Robert took her in as their natural daughter. In May last year Rima was seized and locked up in Dungavel, a former prison.

When Rima’s solicitor lodged an application for judicial review, the Border Agency swept her out of its range, taking her 356 miles south by caged van to Yarl’s Wood, Serco’s notorious Bedfordshire detention centre. Another application for review, deportation averted. After seven days in Yarl’s Wood Rima was home again.

And then, last month, the day after Valentine’s Day, the government told Rima she would be forcibly deported to Italy within weeks. The family campaigns vigorously for clemency, fearing that each new dawn will bring the Border Agency’s arrest squad to their door.

Sambrook goes on to say:

“M’s fate and Rima’s hang in the balance — here, in Britain, a country where asking for sanctuary is a right, not a crime, and where, according to the government, every child matters.”

Other projects are also trying to put pressure on the government to address the problems surrounding the detention of children.

NCADC (the National Coalition of Anti-Deportion Campaigns), for example, also raised the case of ‘M', with ideas for further action.

The organisation Medical Justice is calling upon doctors to raise their concerns about the issue. In its petition for doctors, it says:

“The administrative detention of children is damaging to them, cannot be made otherwise, and is unacceptable in a civilised society. We call for the immediate cessation of this practice which is demonstrably and permanently harmful to children’s health, both in the short and long term.”

Other related groups include the Bail for Immigration Detainees and Citizens for Sanctuary.

So far, there has been a lot of mainstream press attention to the issue, following the publication of a recent report. ECDN hopes that bloggers and social media users will increasingly engage with the issue too. The campaign can be followed on @stop_child_det on Twitter and has a Facebook group.

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