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Titi Nzamba Bolele and her three children were snatched from their home in Adamsdown, Cardiff early in the morning of 26th January by seven immigration officers and taken to Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre, Bedfordshire, where they were detained for 18 days whilst there were unsuccessful attempts to deport them to the Democratic Republic of Congo, a war-zone, before being returned home.

“It was a very painful experience in the prison. We found ourselves in a place where, wherever you come out, they open the door, they lock after you, they open the door, they lock after you. And the children were not okay. They were asking me, ‘We want to go to school’. There were no schools. They were not eating good food. They couldn’t really play. They are being really stressed.”

According to Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID), in “Briefing Paper on Children and Immigration Detention“, every year around 2,000 children (the UK government refuses to release the exact numbers) are detained for the purposes of ‘immigration control’, under exactly the same conditions as adults. The UK government removed its immigration opt-out to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in September 2008. The Convention stipulates that detention shall only be used as a last resort for the shortest appropriate period of time, there is no doubt that this is being breached in a systematic manner. Mike Lewis, chief executive of the Welsh Refugee Council has spoken out:

“For us the trauma of that experience is pretty… I would use the word abusive actually, because I don’t think its done from a child-centred way and shouldn’t be happening in the UK. They don’t know where mummy and daddy are sometimes. And these are quite young children. We’re not talking about 15 year olds. We’re talking about three and four year olds, babies even. We’ve got stories of children who haven’t been fed all day in this process. They then go into these places where they could be there for months while their claims are sorted out. I don’t think you could make it any more dehumanising really”.

There is significant evidence that Mr Lewis is right. A report by the organisation Refugee and Migrant Justice (formerly Refugee Legal Centre) ‘Does Every Child Matter?‘, provides a comprehensive review of children’s experiences of the asylum system since the UK Border Agency (UKBA) introduced the ‘Keeping children safe from harm‘ Code of Practice,  2 months ago. The report:

“paints a distressing [but unfortunately accurate] picture of how children seeking asylum fare in Britain today: their families are consigned to poverty; if unaccompanied, they are subjected to a hostile legal process often marked by a culture of disbelief, sometimes without any adult representation or support; they are left for months and in many cases years without a clear decision about their future, traumatized and in limbo; and they are even locked up, sometimes for months. In short, some of the most vulnerable children in the world are routinely denied basic protection that all other children in the UK enjoy, when all they are doing is seeking sanctuary here.”