Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Refugee post

<>I promised to do some research on the issue of refugees and here at last are the results. I’ve decided to move beyond the specific issue of ‘unaccompanied children’ so we don’t get bogged down in definitions, so much of what follows applies to all refugee children.

Please check the links and judge for yourself whether or not you feel happy about the way many children who come to this country are treated in the
UK. <>This first link is from the Refugee Council and lists 205 different articles. These seem to be archived in a way that means I’m unable to link to the individual articles. Check out the one on the report on the first page by the Chief Inspector of Prisons (I assume most people would consider this to be from a respected source) about children held in detention. <>

This is a quote from another of those links that I have managed to copy and paste:

UK government is locking up thousands of children and their families in immigration detention centres. Refugee Council has joined with Save the Children UK, Bail for Immigration Detainees, together with Scottish Refugee Council and Welsh Refugee Council in a campaign that aims to put a stop to locking up innocent children.

Children and their parents aren't told how long they will be detained for - it could be days or many months. For many of these families detention is particularly traumatic because they have come to the UK to escape terror in their own country, often at the hands of state officials.

  • 2,000 children or more were detained in 2004
  • They had not committed any crime
  • Over 30% spent more than 7 days locked up

For children, the effects of detention in the UK have been shown to be extremely damaging. Children feel they are being punished but don't understand why.

Despite the fact that these families comply with immigration regulations, the UK government is increasing its use of immigration detention for children.

See BBC Radio 4 All in the mind for a report on the campaign
I haven't had a chance to check this myself yet ...

Click here to Read the report on the alternatives to detention written in July 2006.

I also found the following quotes:

‘Nothing can justify an immigration policy that involves locking up children. All the research has shown how incredibly damaging it is for children who may already have experienced serious trauma. There are alternatives which have been successful in other countries. It is time to end this inhumane practice.’ Maeve Sherlock, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council:

‘Detention is a stressful and confusing environment for children which has huge physical and psychological implications. The UK Government cannot defend a policy that has such a damaging effect on children when viable alternatives exist. These children have done nothing wrong; the Home Office cannot justify locking them up.’ Colette Marshall, UK Director of Save the Children

This next link is to a report by John Bercow MP, Lord Dubs and Evan Harris MP written in July 2006 for the No Place for a Child Campaign:
The report states that ‘The Home Office is in contravention of a series of national and international legal guidelines and is failing to protect children who are being detained in the
UK as part of the immigration process.'


Please also check the link to the Refugee Council press release written in July 2001 also on the list (again apologies for lack of direct link). I’d be interested to hear if this situation has changed since.

The headline is Refugee children arriving alone are being left unsupported and unprotected, reveals UK report’ and includes the following areas of specific concern:

· Many separated children, some as young as 15, are expected to look after themselves like adults; there are still anomalies in Government funding to local authorities

· separated children are kept locked up in detention when they have committed no crime

· racism and racially motivated attacks in the UK add to the fear and trauma children have already experienced

· most children are only given temporary immigration status (Exceptional Leave to Remain), leaving them in fear of being returned and insecure about planning a future

· increased barriers across 'Fortress Europe' are forcing children into the hands of dangerous smugglers and traffickers as their only way of reaching a place of safety.

Here are a couple of quotes from the article:

‘The level of support an unaccompanied refugee child receives from the local authority can be a lottery and one of the most worrying practices is that of placing young people in unsupported B&B accommodation. The UK currently lacks a strategic approach to the reception and care of separated children. This needs to be urgently addressed if we are to stop vulnerable children falling through the net.’ Judy Lister of Save the Children

It's clear from this report that separated refugee children are not getting the same level of care as any other child would receive under UK childcare legislation. But we should never forget that any child is a child first and foremost and a refugee second. We have a duty to these children under domestic and international law and they must be protected.’ Margaret Lally of the Refugee Council

This next link is to a report by Statewatch written in November 2006 which suggests there has been little improvement. (I wish I could copy and paste the most shocking parts … damn my techy shortcomings! Please follow the link.)

I also found another really disturbing report on the way in which some children are being failed by the system. It’s on the 2nd page of the original link headed “unaccompanied children” and makes for some really upsetting and disturbing reading.

I apologise if some of the quotes above may seem out of date. Unfortunately, some of the newer links are in a format that I can’t work out how to copy and paste. I used some of the older ones where this was the case but in order to get the full picture you will need to check the others yourself. Please don’t take my word for anything - click the links and check for yourself to see if you feel this country is falling short in acting in the interests of the children involved.

Please note: this post is by no means intended as an attack on the people working in the field, many of whom may well be good-hearted and humane and trying to do their best given the political restrictions under which they are forced to operate.

It seems to me the government is trying to juggle two contradictory imperatives: the need to protect children with the pressure maintained by the tabloid line that feeds voters’ fears that the country is being overrun.

Please do click the links and judge for yourself whether you believe the balance is right. I’ve only just scratched the surface of the information available.

I have no doubt that there are unscrupulous people working to use the system for their own ends. But I feel this is a necessary evil if we are to ensure the wellbeing of every child. Personally I’d rather be exploited by some rather than risk missing one genuine child. But that’s just me …

In an ideal world, we would feel able to do something practical to alter the horrific conditions these children are escaping from. But what can we really do about civil war in Somalia or the situation in Darfur? My personal view is that this is the country where I live and vote. The treatment these children get here is being done in my name and here is where I feel most able and responsible to put on pressure to protect these children.

At the same time I’m fighting despair. How many of us were opposed to going to war in Iraq and warned of the consequences? But it still happened and as a result there is now a new wave of refugees coming from that area of the world.

<>All I feel able to do is ensure this information is out there so people can judge for themselves if they feel enough is being done to protect vulnerable children and care for them appropriately. Meanwhile I will do all I can to support the campaigns working at grassroots level and the individuals within them as well as those working within the system who are asking these same questions.

I've rushed to publish this in order to shift the focus back onto the real issues. If I've missed anything or if any of the links don't work, please let me know. Apologies for the weird format of some bits. Making it look pretty wasn't a priority!

Thanks for listening.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Thank you, Debi.

The system, no doubt, will adapt to the new situation we face, but meanwhile there are things everyone can do. We can all respond to perceived needs when we encounter such youngsters, by providing winter coats, decent shoes, or a square meal--whatever we see lacking. The ongoing influx can make the problem seem perennial and insoluble, but to individual kids a small bit of help can make all the difference. Be proactive. Look for opportunities. And, of course, vote accordingly.

Debi said...

I can't say how relieved I am that it has now been accepted that there are very serious problems.

I've never claimed to be objective - but I didn't have to search hard for evidence to prove my claims that children are falling through chasms.

And not all the links are to the Refugee Council. The Chief Inspector of Prisons, for example?

Some of the links do suggest alternatives. Meanwhile at least we can now all agree that the problems exist and that, as a result, some already deeply traumatised children are suffering further pain once they arrive in the UK. We have to keep asking the questions and, yes, jta, always be prepared to help individuals we come across.

Anonymous said...

I have lived in ignorance up until now, I admit. I had not known any of this. Good on you, Debi, for providing the research that informs us, the members of the British public who read here, and more I hope, after this post. Good on you dba lehane for enlightening us further in this debate.

I will return soon to see more of this topic, I assure you.

Links with facts draw you in and encourage understanding. I hope to get there, pursuing it all, at least some way, by the end of the forthcoming weekend.

Children need to be children!

Let's not take that basic human function and right away from them!

Unknown said...

Thank you for the post and links, Debi. I followed them all and then took myself off to have a look at what was happening in my own county. The Cornwall site linked to hundreds of sites around the country and none of them made happy reading. I ended up having a look at CBBC, the children's channel, where there is quite a large section devoted to refugee and immigrant children. On here were some stories of children (in their own words) who have been 'shut up' in Dungavel in Scotland for over a year....

"Newroz Ay and her family live in a detention centre in Scotland called Dungavel.
13-year-old Newroz is originally from Turkey but her family had to leave because they were scared of being harassed because of their culture.

They are Kurds - an ethnic minority from Turkey who want their own homeland.

"I'm from Kurdistan I have been living in England for nearly four years.

To begin with England was really good for us. I went to school, learnt English and I had many friends but now I have come here to the detention centre it has been very difficult for me.

I can't see my friends anymore. I can't go to a proper school either and it's very boring in here coz you can't do anything.

We first came to the UK in a lorry - we lived in Kent for a bit, while the government decided if we could stay in the country.

It was beautiful - we went sometimes in town with our friends having fun and also went shopping with my mum.

But now we've been sent to live at a detention centre.

Dungavel detention centre
I live in one room with my brother Dilavan, my little sister Nidia and mum.

My family are always crying coz they want to get out of here. We ask my mum what's going to happen to us and she says she doesn't know. She can't sleep at night.

We can't do anything - it's just like a prison

I want to go outside I want to have fun with my friends like normal children do. We didn't do anything wrong."


At the end of the link I found this...

Newsround contacted the Home Office and they wouldn't say how much longer the girls are to be kept at Dungavel.

Their view is that the girls' parents should never have brought them to Britain in the first place.

In a statement they told us:

"We understand that the whole family need a stable life, but these unfortunate children are in this position all because of what their parents have done, and this is a regret for everyone."

But lots of people are very angry that the children have been kept inside for almost a year.

(And they didn't do anything wrong!)

Marie said...

That's terrible, Debi. I hate to admit that I wasn't aware that this was going on.

It's great that someone like you cares enough to bring it to our attention. It's easy to ignore these things when not enough is being said. Why do they feel the need to lock these children up like this? If there are alternatives that have proven successful in other countries then I don't know why the UK doesn't try them out.

I admire you for speaking out. In doing so, maybe things can change for these children.

Unknown said...

Debi, you have done and are doing a great job in raising this subject. What distresses me is how easily a child's psyche is damaged by experiences such as these. They're children, they can't make sense of it or rationalise it. One must wonder what the long term effects these experiences will have on them and how that will resultantly impact on society in times to come. It strikes me that with all the goodwill in the world, people tend to think of and cope with the immediate issues or problems and not the longer term ramifications of their actions. Humanity truly needs to see and plan beyond today.

S. Kearney said...

It's wonderful you've posted this, Debi. Well done for bringing this to people's attention. One just hopes that things will improve for those caught up in this, and that someone somewhere is trying to change things. :)

Debi said...

It's amazing how easy it is NOT to know about this if your attention is focused elsewhere. Yet the research was so simple to do - as Minx has confirmed by taking it a stage further. I didn't need to use any of my personal contacts in the end - just used a standard search engine.

Because of the way I live and think, I was already very aware of the situation and naively assumed everyone else would be too. That was my original mistake which I've hopefully now corrected.

In spite of the blood spilled in the comments sections of the previous posts, I can see some good has come out of it if it means it pushed me to provide the details and open people's eyes.

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