Members of Parliament Chris Mullin and Peter Bottomley are co-sponsoring an Early Day Motion, calling on the Government to end the detention of asylum-seeking children.
The Westminster motion from respected MPs on opposite sides of the House will be followed swiftly by a fresh Scottish Parliamentary Motion from MSP Christina McKelvie, whose Central Scotland constituency includes Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre.
Bishop John Packer of Leeds and Ripon and Baroness Haleh Afshar of Heslington will also be pressing the government to inform the House of Lords when it proposes to end child immigration detention.
This gathering storm of parliamentary activity has been sparked by the launch of a new campaign, End Child Detention Now. The campaign grew from a citizens’ initiative to free a two-year-old toddler and his parents from imprisonment in Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre over the summer.
Campaign Co-ordinator Esme Madill, who began the City of York’s first voluntary project for refugees seven years ago, said, ‘the Government claims detention of children is used as a last resort, but 2,000 children are detained each year, many for months on end. This is inhumane and completely unnecessary.’
‘Last year, for example, we learnt of a mother and her three children who were woken at 6am by the sound of immigration officers forcing in their front door. They were given five minutes to pack, then taken in a locked prison van to Yarl’s Wood detention centre. Their mother’s life threatening illness requires a combination of prescription medicine to keep her alive. There was no earthly chance of her absconding.’
‘This summer a two year old was left without his parents for four days when his mother was taken to Dungavel. This family spent more than three weeks in Yarls Wood. In her country of origin, the mother had experienced torture in prison. She was utterly traumatised by arrest and detention here. Unable to eat, sleep or even speak, she fainted frequently in front of her terrified son. We witnessed this. It’s got to stop. So we launched this national campaign to help stop it.’
The Children’s Commissioner for England Sir Al Aynsley Green has condemned the practice of arresting and forcibly detaining children in immigration removal centres and has repeatedly called on the government to end it. The Children’s Society, Bail for Immigration Detainees, the Refugee Council, Save the Children and YoungMinds are among national charities who have demanded that child detention stops.
Chris Mullin MP for Sunderland South, whose Early Day Motion was tabled on 12th October said: ‘However humanely they are treated, detention is a deeply traumatic solution for most children. Everything possible should be done to avoid it.’
Peter Bottomley, Conservative MP for Worthing West, the motion’s co-sponsor, says: ‘Our task is to end child suffering, not to add to it by detention. Who wants to answer the question: “What did you do for a child today?” with “I locked her/him up.”‘
Sarah Brennan, Chief Executive of mental health charity YoungMinds, said: ‘In so called, civilised 21st Century Britain why are we locking up vulnerable children and young people in detention centres who haven’t committed a crime? Are they a danger to society or a menace on our streets? These children are no threat to us but the way we treat them is both abusive and inhumane, often just adding trauma to the recent experiences they have had in the countries their families have left.
‘We need to completely rethink the way we deal with the children of asylum seekers if we want clearer consciences, and provide proof of our humanitarian credentials.’
Ms Madill concludes: ‘We want to inspire a wave of protest that forces the Government to stop detaining children and to let asylum-seeking families remain in their community while their cases are being determined. Every other civilised country has come up with a more humane alternative to detaining children. The government has run out of excuses. It is time to end child detention now.’
This House notes with concern that around 2,000 children are detained each year in immigration detention centres, some for periods of several months; notes the opinion of Save the Children and the Children’s Commissioner that this is unjustified and damaging; notes that families with children are among the least likely to abscond and further notes that European Union and Commonwealth countries have successfully introduced solutions other than secure detention for families who have exhausted their immigration or asylum claims. This House therefore urgently calls upon the Government to end the practice of holding children in immigration detention centres.