State-sponsored cruelty

The coalition government promised to end child detention in asylum cases. Instead it has hired Barnardo’s to help run a new detention centre. Richard Goulding reports

July 14, 2011
4 min read

Abolition of child immigration detention appeared close last year when a decade of campaigning by charities, medical practitioners, human rights lawyers and detainees led to Nick Clegg pledging in the coalition agreement to end what he called ‘state-sponsored cruelty’. Yet despite this promise, one year on the practice is continuing in a rebranded guise with a new, euphemistically-named ‘pre-departure accommodation’ centre.

To the shock of many, one of the UK’s major children’s charities, Barnardo’s, has been hired to run welfare and support services at the site. While Barnardo’s says it still supports an end to child detention, it has endorsed the facility, with chief executive Anne Marie Carrie claiming government reforms add up to ‘a system which has ambitions to be fundamentally different – which seeks to safeguard children and treat families and children with compassion’.

Despite government claims that the centre will be run on a ‘care model rather than a secure one’, families are to be detained there pending their imminent deportation. The site itself will be surrounded by a 2.5-metre perimeter fence with an extra internal barrier creating a ‘buffer’ between occupants and the outside world. It is to be ‘supervised at all times’, with ‘routine observation of all parts of the grounds’ and will be monitored by HM Inspectorate of Prisons. Families held there may be permitted short day trips during their stay, but only subject to strict supervision and individual risk assessments. Security will be provided by the multinational company G4S.

The facility is intended to hold nine families at a time for up to a week, although the UK Borders Agency says ‘stays will normally be limited to 72 hours’. Up to 4,445 children per year could be deported through the centre, according to calculations by Professor Heaven Crawley, director of the Centre for Migration Policy Research and former chief Home Office researcher, who wryly dubbed the site ‘not quite the end of detention anyone had in mind’.

Nevertheless Barnardo’s, which previously campaigned against child detention, argues its presence is necessary to aid the ‘most vulnerable’ families who ‘desperately need our support’. The charity states it will ‘not be afraid to speak out’ if detention becomes routine, a ‘revolving door’ for children, or if its workers ‘witness any member of staff not keeping a child’s welfare front of mind’.

Yet as former children’s commissioner Sir Al Aynsley-Green pointed out in his 2010 review of conditions at Yarl’s Wood, detention remains inherently ‘harmful to children and never likely to be in their best interests’. In March he further questioned how far Barnardo’s, reliant on service fees and grants for 75 per cent of its income, would be able to maintain its independence, asking ‘how will they do this when receiving government funding for their services?’

Many warn that the charity’s very presence will aid the government’s political agenda in falsely claiming it has ended child detention. Emma Gill, spokesperson for the campaign group Medical Justice, says: ‘The danger with Barnardo’s is they may give the impression to the public that it’s stopped, because they’ve spoken out against it in the past.’

Indeed, many elements of previous child detention policy remain. Raids to arrest families unwilling to move to the centre are still permitted as early as 6.30am according to UKBA operational guidance notes, despite the well-documented traumatic effects of dawn raids. For example, the recent Medical Justice report State Sponsored Cruelty found four out of five children involved with the study who had suffered dawn raids were ‘terrified’ by the experience, with reactions including ‘sobbing, weeping and hiding’.

Child detention doesn’t stop there either, with a slip by Green last March revealing that ‘high risk’ families will still in ‘rare’ cases be held at Tinsley House detention centre, whose family wing is undergoing a £1 million refurbishment. Not to mention the recent condemnation of Heathrow airport’s 24-hour holding centres, exempt from the requirement to end child detention, as ‘degrading’ and ‘unacceptable on grounds of humanity’ by government watchdogs.

With asylum seekers under increasing pressure as a result of changes to legal aid, a government committed to speeding up deportations and the countries of Europe increasingly determined to close their doors to refugees, hopes of a new ‘compassionate’ migration system may have to wait.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill


44