Medical experts, authors join battle against children detention

`Children suffer post-traumatic stress disorder’
Clinical depression, suicidal behaviour, weight loss not unknown

5th January 2020: The campaign against the detention of children awaiting deportation has received a shot in the arm, with medical experts calling for an end to the practice.

Describing it as a ‘terrifying experience’, the experts have joined the campaign, asserting it can harm the physical and mental health of the children under detention.

Also joining in the campaign are authors and other members of the intelligentsia. In fact, over 60 children’s authors and illustrators have signed a letter to the Prime Minister in support of the campaign.

The signatories include Quentin Blake, Carol Ann Duffy and former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen.

A joint report on the harmful effects of detention has been published by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Royal College of General Practitioners and the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

The report is intended at minimising the number of children under detention and reducing the physical and psychological harm caused to them due to the practice.

Even as the UK Border Agency only recently claimed the detainees in the removal centers had access to a range of medical, educational and welfare facilities, the report makes it clear that almost all the children suffer injury to their physical and mental health as a result of indefinite administrative detention.

The problem does not end here. The children also suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, clinical depression, suicidal behaviour and weight loss. To make the matters worse, there is inadequate pain relief for children with sickle cell disease.

According to the report, an estimated 1,000 children are detained every year in Immigration Removal Centres. They belong to the families identified for deportation.

Though the average length of stay of children in the UK’s main such centre Yarl’s Wood is 15 days, almost a third of children are detained for longer than a month.

The report further says the policy is incompatible with both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Borders Citizenship and Immigration Act (2009), which places a statutory duty on the Home Office to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.

Drawing parallels, the report says countries like Sweden and Canada have developed alternatives to detention. Quoting the example of Sweden, the report says failed asylum-seeking families are accommodated in regional ‘refugee centres’.These are flats organized around a central office.

It adds each asylum seeker is assigned a caseworker. In Canada, the state-funded `Failed Refugee Project’ goes up to the extent of providing counselling and practical assistance to asylum seekers, whose claims have been refused.

In the UK also, a pilot project in Glasgow is allowing failed asylum-seeking children and families to stay in designated flats, while they await deportation.

The chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Professor Steve Field, says detaining children for any length of time, often without proper explanation, is a terrifying experience that can have lifelong consequences.

As a civilised society, one cannot sit back and allow these practices to continue. They are unethical and unacceptable. GPs work at the heart of their local communities and are well placed to work with families, agencies and the Government to come up with alternatives.

Already, Home Secretary Alan Johnson has been urged to stop the unkind and needless practice of keeping children in immigration detention centres.

In a communiqué to Johnson, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne urged the Home Secretary to consider the plight of children.

The letter came soon after Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg sought the scrapping of the controversial asylum policy on detaining children in removal homes.

Launching an attack on the policy, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s failure to get it scrapped, Clegg too had earlier asserted it would see hundreds of innocent children spend Christmas behind bars. How could the Government justify “state sponsored cruelty”? Clegg had questioned.

The Church of Scotland too had stepped in to object in “the strongest possible terms” to Border and Immigration minister Phil Woolas’ comments on the necessity of locking children up.

Available information also suggests the prisons inspectorate found women at Tinsley House, near Gatwick Airport, felt intimidated. They rarely left their rooms. To make the matters worse, the parents were constantly worried about their children’s safety.

The kids had limited access to fresh air. The number of activities available to them too had fallen since the last inspection.

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