End Detention of Children

Campaign to end the detention of children and families

  • Are we in Prison Dad? – A pamphlet explaining our opposition to the detention of children and families.

Follow this link for a pdf of the pamphlet; PamphletChildren


I feel so bad. Why have all these things happened to me?” said Faith, who has asked for her surname not to be revealed. “When they came to arrest us at 5.30am at our home in Birmingham, they kept banging on the door. The children were very upset and were crying. They wouldn’t even allow me any privacy to wash myself in the bathroom before we left.”

Nick Clegg, “Our reforms will deliver an approach to families that is compassionate and humane.”

See full article from The Guardian here http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/oct/03/police-investigate-nigerian-mother-deportation

In coalition with a number of organisations SOAS Detainee Support is currently campaigning to end the detention of children and families.


Since 2001, about 1500 children have been detained in the UK’s immigration removal centres. The average length of stay is 15 days, but many families stay for longer period of times. We know of cases, where a child had been detained for 190 days. Numerous reports from BiD, Refugee Migrant Justice, The Royal Colleges of Paediatrics and Child Health, General Practitioners and Psychiatrists and the UK Faculty of Public Health as well as other organisations have documented that detention has detrimental effects on children’s psychological and physical health, development and well-being. Professor Steve Field, Chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners says in his report:

“Children in immigrant families are already disadvantaged and at their most vulnerable. Detaining children for any length of time – often without proper explanation – is a terrifying experience that can have lifelong consequences. As well as the potential psychological impact, these children invariably experience poor physical health as they cannot access immunisation and preventative services. As a civilised society, we cannot sit back and allow these practices to continue – they are unethical and unacceptable

In September 2011 a new Detention Centre was opened for Families and Children called ‘Cedars’ in Pease Pottage near Gatwick.  Dr Heaven Crawley, director of the Centre of Migration Policy Research, said: “The fact that the centre will, according to its planning application, have a ‘homely feel’ is irrelevant and ignores the evidence on the effects of detention on children.  It is not a child’s home and cannot and will not feel homely to them. It is detention in everything but name.”

It is for these reasons that we oppose the detention of children and families. But these issues are not limited to children, we know that detention has extremely detrimental effects on everyone forced to undergo it.  We will campaign without submission for an end to the use of administrative immigration detention in any circumstance.

  • Brief timeline outlining the Detention of Children in UK.
  • Links to articles for all up to date information.
  • UKBArnardos.
  • History of SDS Campaigning.

Information about Detention of Children in UK

  • Children and families used to be routinely detained in Yarls Wood Detention Centre.
  • In 2009 amidst powerful medical evidence and strong campaigning, the pressure grew to end the detention of children.
  • 2010 Nick Clegg promised to end the “shameful practice” of locking up asylum seeking families in conditions known to harm their mental health.
  • March 2011 Barnardo’s reveales it will work with the UK Border Agency and security giant G4S at the new immigration detention centre for families with children.
  • September 2011 ‘Cedars’ opens.
  • During September UKBA reveals that of the 11 children who entered Cedars pre-departure accommodation in September 2011: 3 children spent 1 day in detention, 2 spent 2 days, 2 spent 4 days, 3 spent 7 days, and the remaining child, having spent 4 days in detention was still detained as at 30 September 2011.

Basically, before 2010 Child Detention existed in UK – Families with Children were detained in Yarls Wood.  Then the Government were forced to admit that being locked up under threat of deportation was extemely distressing and traumatizing for children.  Now in 2011 ‘Child Detention no longer exists in UK’ – Families and children are instead locked up in ‘Pre-Departure Accomodation’.  Giving it a different name doesn’t change anything,  Child Detention still goes on…

The ‘Independent’ Family Returns Panel Report Sept 2012

On the 19th of September the so called ‘Watchdog’ of the Detention Centre released its first report in which it lauded the new centre.

Unfortunatly though the Independent Family Returns Panel seems to disagree with many in the field and commended the facilty for being so ‘effective’. Furthermore it stated:

‘The new family returns process is a much improved process. Families are no longer held for indefinite periods of time, if at all, and they are supported well throughout the process. Members of the Panel have observed the process directly and been impressed with the professionalism of the staff and their willingness to take on new ideas and alter practice to reflect those ideas. As a consequence, members of the Panel feel that they have been able to make a positive difference to the quality of time and support experienced by families just prior to departure.’

They also recommended that Barnardos should get rid of their ‘red lines’. These were Barnardos own conditions for working with the UKBA and will further discussed later. However the most important one was  that the detention centre should only be used as a last resort and that no more than 10% of the families facing removal should be held there.

The report from start to finish seems to be incapable of questioning at any stage the necessity of the centre, arguing that although the matter of detaining families is ‘a sobering endeavour‘ yet ‘if one believes that the UK should retain our sovereign borders’ basically everything should be allowed.

However as a recent article on Open Democracy by Tom Sanderson points out the ‘independent’ nature of the panel should be questioned, as for instance the Panel’s sole medical expert has been a paid medical adviser to the Border Agency for years.

Furthermore the Panel apparently had not received information about complaints made against the UKBA but even more shocking did not ask for this information to be given untill a year after being set up.

Other problematic recommendations of the report were:

– Immigration staf should be given the right to use force to restrain teenagers who aggressively try to resist the removal of themselves and their families.

-Refugee Action should take a more persuasive and proactive approach when engaging with families and children (which sounds awfully much like an euphemism for forcing families to return to dangerous situations)

-Priority targeting for British-born children, who should be fast-tracked into detention and deportation to stem the development of family and community ties.

Links to Articles


‘Barnardo’s! Please quit the child detention business’

Alida Alisis, 8 August 2011

Back in March, almost a year after the government had promised to end what Nick Clegg called the “shameful practice” of locking up asylum seeking families in conditions known to harm their mental health, Barnardo’s stunned children’s advocates by revealing that it had agreed to work with the UK Border Agency and security giant G4S at the new immigration detention centre for families with children at Pease Pottage near Gatwick that’s opening later this Summer.

Frances Webber, vice chair of the Institute of Race Relations, accused Barnardo’s — Britain’s biggest children’s charity — of providing “a cloak of legitimacy to the continued detention of children”. Former children’s commissioner for England and internationally renowned paediatrican Sir Al Aynsley-Green wrote in OurKingdom that this “worrying development” sparked the question: “are the big children’s organisations effective advocates for children, or are they friends of government?

Stung by such criticism Barnardo’s chief executive Anne Marie Carrie last month made comments widely reported as a tough-talking “ultimatum” to UKBA, saying the charity would pull out of the working partnership if children and families were not treated properly. But can we trust Barnardo’s to stand up to the government?

We, being students and members of SOAS Detainee Support who visit immigration detainees and offer them support, have campaigned hard against child detention. In May last year we picketed G4S’s annual meeting, argued with the company’s chief executive Nick Buckles (who, by the way, is paid almost £5000 every day), and landed a picture in the Daily Telegraph’s city pages. In June last year, we ran the Release Carnival, bringing together campaigners and child refugees to march on Downing Street.

When this past March Barnardo’s threw in its lot with Nick Buckles and the UK Border Agency we felt utterly dismayed, let down, betrayed. When we visited Barnardo’s HQ at Barkingside in Essex to express our disappointment. We were sent away and told to study Barnardo’s website so we’d understand what they were doing. We read. It still looked wrong. We made a second visit, intending to distribute a leaflet outlining our objections to staff as they left work. Barnardo’s diverted workers to a rear exit.

Lately we’ve scrutinised Barnardo’s “ultimatum”. Here’s what we make of it.

Barnardo’s says:

Barnardo’s seeks to support the most vulnerable children. The families and children held in this accommodation are at their most vulnerable and desperately need our support.  Barnardo’s will always help the most vulnerable children in the UK and will work to ensure that asylum seekers are treated humanely throughout their time in the UK.

We say:

In May 2010 the coalition government pledged to end the detention of children for immigration purposes – finally recognising the lasting psychological harm it caused. Former Barnardo’s chief exec, Martin Narey, slammed the imprisonment of asylum-seeking families as “unnecessary” and “shameful”.  But another ConDem u-turn has meant child detention continues, simply rebranded as “family-friendly pre-departure accommodation”.

As many as 4,445 children could be jailed each year at de facto prisons run by G4S (who may face corporate manslaughter charges over the death of Jimmy Mubenga on a deportation flight). Barnardo’s involvement has already given this sham a fig leaf of legitimacy with councillors who granted planning permission at Pease Pottage reassured by Barnardo’s involvement.  Rather than offering a new face to the same agenda of abuse and degradation in immigration detention Barnardo’s should urge the government to keep its pledge and end child detention.

Barnardo’s says:

Under new immigration processes families will be given every opportunity and help to leave voluntarily. If they choose not to then an independent return panel, which includes child psychologists and medical experts, will oversee the most appropriate method of return and any specific safeguards which need to be in place.

We say:

The ‘independent’ return panel is to provide advice or offer amendments to UKBA on the method of removing the family from the UK. They do not decide the method of removal.  UKBA does not have to accept the Panel’s advised amendments. Disagreements will be referred to the immigration minister who will decide how to proceed.  Information given to the Panel is kept secret from the family who are unable to contest it even if the information given to the panel is wrong, out of date or fresh evidence has become available. The advice the Panel gives the UKBA is kept secret.  There is no built-in external scrutiny and the panel cannot be considered independent due to many members being UKBA and governmental staff.

Barnardo’s says (about the Government’s new immigration processes and UKBA’s pre-departure accommodation):

All this adds up to a system which has ambitions to be fundamentally different — which seeks to safeguard children and treat families and children with compassion.

That is why one of my first decisions as chief executive was to agree that Barnardo’s provides the welfare and social work services within the accommodation.

We say:

But how can Barnardo’s talk of ‘a system which has ambitions to be fundamentally different — which seeks to safeguard children and treat families and children with compassion’ when the UK has lately lost its two largest providers of legal aid representation to migrants and asylum seekers and more reputable voices tell us tens of thousands of the most vulnerable in our society are at the mercy of the UK Border Agency’s arbitrary and often unlawful actions?

Barnardo’s says:

As a last resort, a short stay should include expert family support to ensure humane treatment.  Barnardo’s accepts that, as a last resort and after consideration by an independent panel, children and families may need to be kept in secure pre-departure accommodation for a very short period of time.  Barnardo’s wants to ensure that these families are treated humanely with respect and dignity, and are given the correct support through access to welfare and social work services ahead of their departure.  It is critical that families and children have someone to turn to during this extremely stressful and difficult time.

We say:

It is critical that, after an analysis of all the medical evidence, families and children are not detained at all. Barnardo’s saying they are making the situation better by being there is like someone agreeing to be a hangman because they can make the death less painful than another. The families detained will be those who — except in ‘exceptional circumstances’ — have not complied with any of the other attempts at removal. This might very well be because they are terrified to go back, and being locked up will be extremely frightening and traumatic. The presence of Barnardo’s will not ease this fear as long as they are still locked up and facing deportation.

Barnardo’s says:

We see an important part of our role as shedding light on the whole immigration process to ensure it supports those children within it. We are absolutely clear that if policy and practice fall short of safeguarding the welfare, dignity and respect of families, then Barnardo’s will raise concerns, will speak out and ultimately, if we have to, we will withdraw our services.

We say:

The “red-lines” set down by Barnardo’s are no use at all. The research (and common-sense!) shows that even one week in detention is long enough for a child to be severely affected.  As a children’s charity Barnardo’s should not help the UKBA detain and deport people, it should speak out against child detention FULL STOP.

We’re visiting Barnardo’s again today to ask them to stop spinning and start listening to and defending vulnerable children such as this child detainee quoted in the Medical Justice report State Sponsored Cruelty: “I am so scared of the Home Office. It is hard times for me and my mum. She would rather kill herself than go back.”

Please sign the online petition  “BARNARDO’S – STOP COLLABORATING IN THE

DETENTION OF CHILDREN”  at http://www.petitiononline.co.uk/petition/barnardos-stop-collaborating-in-the-detention-of-children/3116

Thank you!!!!

BARNARDOs petition

Please print and fill in the petition above.  Post to the Barnardos headquarters address Tanners Lane, Barkingside, Ilford, Essex IG6 1QG.  Please email us at soas_detainee_support@riseup.net so we can keep a track of how many names have signed.

There is also an open letter that can be signed BARNARDOs open letter

History of SDS Campaigning

In May 2010 we picketed G4S’s annual meeting, argued with the company’s chief executive Nick Buckles (who, by the way, is paid almost £5000 every day), and landed a picture in the Daily Telegraph’s city pages.

In June 2010 we ran the Release Carnival, bringing together campaigners and child refugees to march on Downing Street.

In November 2010, Universal Children’s Day, we held a candlelit vigil for the children who were still being detained.

In March 2011, almost a year after the government had promised to end child detention, it was disclosed that a new detention centre for children and their families would be opening.

The Government’s plan was to simply to close Yarls Wood – where the media had accepted detaining children was wrong – and begin locking them up again, just in a different place with a fresh media strategy. The security giant G4S would run the centre but Barnardo’s would run ‘child welfare’. Barnardo’s was in charge of all the press releases and the new prison was portrayed as ‘children-friendly pre-departure accommodation’.

Actions against Barnardo’s

Held a picket outside the Council Chamber in Haywards Heath where planning permission for the centre was being discussed.  It was easily passed with the reasoning that being locked up was not going to be distressing for the children because Barnardo’s would be there.

Disrupted a Barnardo’s fundraising event to ask, ‘How charitable is it to collude with the UKBA in locking up children?‘ and ‘Why fund that of all things during the crisis?’. http://london.indymedia.org/videos/8674

Leafleted outside Barnardo’s charity shops.

Visited Barnardo’s HQ at Barkingside in Essex numerous times to alert their staff to their involvement in the detention of children and pressure them to contact the management with their concerns.

Got an article published on the international web journal openDemocracy, http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/alida-alisis/barnardo’s-please-quit-child-detention-business.

Protest in Haywards Heath – campaigners occupied a roundabout with banners and leafleted all cars, played music and engaged in discussions. The demo finished outside the Mid Sussex Council offices, where planning permission was granted centre in March.

Sent out over 300 letters to all Barnardo’s stores around the country detailing the facts under Barnardo’s spin and requesting they raise their concern with their management.

Contacted all of the financial supporters of Barnardo’s listed in their 2010 Annual Report – over 100 corporations and grant giving organisations – to express our distress that soon they will be funding the detention of children.

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Campaign Video