The Plastic Hippo

June 1, 2010

Rendition extraordinaire

Filed under: Education,Law,Politics,Rights,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 4:13 pm

Tucked away in the recent Queen`s speech, and largely unreported, is a Liberal Democrat commitment to finally end the detention of children for immigration purposes. Ironically, the compromises, contradictions and conceits contained in the dogs-dinner deal between the suddenly like-minded Liberal Democrats and Conservatives could be very bad news for child detainees and very good news for our own dear Serco.

Even the most Neanderthal of intellects will realise that locking up children is a bad thing, particularly when they learn that the overwhelming majority of the 1,000 kids banged up in this country have committed no crime or misdemeanour. According to Children`s Commissioner Sir Al Aynsley-Green, children belonging to families seeking asylum face “extreme distress” during violent pre-dawn arrests, lengthy transportation in caged vans deprived of food, drink and toilet breaks and by suffering further violence and racism when detained at Immigration Removal Centres. There is evidence that new-born babies have been denied medication.

Given this disgraceful state of affairs, our new coalition government deserve a rousing three cheers for ending the scandal of child detention. Hip, hip…hang on.

A closer look at the detail reveals that Her Majesty`s Government will implement a “wide-ranging review” but offers no time-scale other than the vague “in the coming months”. More importantly, Conservative insistence that the policy should apply only to children and not their parents leads to three disturbing possibilities.

The compromise means that the most likely outcome is that the commitment will be put on the back burner in the hope that everyone will forget about it and most people probably will; apart from the detained children who will continue to suffer irreparable physiological damage as a consequence of such barbaric treatment.

Or, the government will insist on detaining parents and then release their children into the care of local authorities. Apart from contravening Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, separating families will place an unbearable work load on local council social services already failing to care for looked after children. Local authorities, lacking adequate resources and expertise, would not welcome the legal responsibility for caring for traumatised and emotionally damaged children who are the victims of state child abuse.

The third option available is to fast-track deportations. The private profit making companies such as G4S (formerly Group 4 Securicor) and Serco who kick down the bedroom doors of children born in this country on behalf of the UK Border Agency, could cut out the middle man and drive the cattle trucks straight to the airport instead of wasting all that time in detention centres. With no hungry mouths to feed or expensive medication to administer, shareholder dividends would improve.

There is, however, some positive news. The new immigration minister, Damian Green, has announced that Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre in Scotland is to close. Hip, hip…hang on.

On the day of the announcement, a mother who has lived in Scotland for three years was arrested and detained in Dungavel along with her eight-month-old baby. Damian Green, the guy who was arrested for allegedly leaking sensitive information when in opposition, then waffled on about an ongoing review but confirmed that “current policy is still in place”. Another factor in the proposed closure of Dungavel is the discomfort felt by the Scottish Executive. Immigration and asylum policy is controlled from Westminster but child protection and safeguarding in Scotland is the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament.

Although Dungavel (run by G4S) may one day close, the families detained there will be transferred to the infamous Yarl`s Wood Immigration Removal Centre (run by Serco). Yarl`s Wood in Bedfordshire was previously burnt down in a fire started by inmates protesting against inhumane treatment. Group 4, who ran the facility at the time, locked detainees inside the burning building. Since Serco took control of the facility, there have been hunger strikes, suicides and allegations of racism, violence, abuse and even theft brought against Serco employees. One child with a broken arm was not allowed to see a doctor for 15 hours and had to wait a further five hours before receiving treatment. The charity Legal Action for Women distributed a guide to the legal rights of detainees which was promptly confiscated by Serco.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that applications for asylum are actually falling, down 48% in the first quarter of 2010 and the popular myth that work-shy, scrounging asylum-seekers are flooding over our borders is as truthful as a Daily Mail editorial. These families have fled from torture, oppression, rape and war to seek refuge in a country that was once thought of as a sanctuary. Being bashed about by a private security firm is a kids game compared to what they can expect following deportation. In many cases, the families have been here for years, have integrated into communities and tend to do the dirty jobs that others refuse to do – a little like Serco.

With its myriad portfolio of business interests, Serco is well placed to be the agent of a government intent on denying basic human rights. “Not our fault” claims the government. “Just doing our job” say Serco. With its extraordinary expertise in rendering ground handling and air traffic control at a number of remote and unusual airfields, who better than Serco to drag terrified children from their beds and fly them off to an unknown future?

In case you need reminding, Serco run schools in Walsall.

Hip, hip…

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