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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 Read the rest of this entry »

The Children’s Commissioner for Wales, Keith Towler, has condemned the the removal process implimented by the UK Border Agency, whilst speaking to delegates from across the UK at the launch of the Shared Futures project in Cardiff on Wednesday 17th September.

He recounts a story which would be familiar to anyone who has looked into the way in which the UK Border Agency operates.

“I took a call recently from an incredibly distraught woman in Swansea who had watched two vans with people in uniforms come to a house in her street around 8am and remove a family. The mother of the family could speak little English and her eldest son was no older than 13. He had good English and was translating what was happening but things got emotional and the boy lost it. As I learned later, it was totally out of character but this child had been put under so much pressure that he could not cope.

In response, those in uniform took a punitive approach. They separated him from his family. He went in one van. The rest of his family was put in the other. It was not until later that night in Manchester airport where they had all been taken, that they were reunited for a flight out of the country.

“This action affected not just this family but it affected the children at the local primary who were left with nightmares over whether they would be taken away. It affected the community. These children who were taken away called Wales their home. They spoke with Welsh accents and had friends at the local primary.”

“an immigration removal centre can never be a suitable place for children”

Anne Owers, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons.

Two recent reports on full announced inspections of two privately run detention prisons provide extremely damning evidence of the treatment of asylum applicants incarcerated within them. The report on Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre and report on Tinsley House Immigration Removal Centre were both carried out by Anne Owers, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons. These are the places where single women and families – men, women and children – are locked up, often for extended periods of time, despite having never committed any crime, apart from coming to the UK in search of a better life. Both reports focused particularly on the effects that such imprisonment has on children.

Some key findings from the report on Yarl’s Wood

  • Escort vehicles with caged compartments were inappropriately used to transport children
  • the average length of children’s detention had increased and this had a detrimental effect on children and their families
  • overall provision of health services was a concern
  • Children staying for more than a few days received an unsatisfactory educational experience and there were few activities outside school hours
  • There was no evidence that children’s individual needs were systematically taken into account when decisions to detain were made. Our interviews with detained children illustrated the effect of sudden arrest and detention on their well being and reflected how scared they were while held in detention
  • The standard of care delivery was reasonable for basic primary care, but some serious gaps in provision, including poor access and communication, impacted negatively on detainee wellbeing
  • Services for children were under-developed

Some key findings from the report about Tinsley House:

  • Our principal concerns about safety related to children. While staff in the family centre made considerable efforts to support children and their families, they could do little to mitigate the damaging effects of their detention
  • We were disturbed to observe some unprofessional conduct by external escort staff
  • We were particularly troubled by the plight of single women …the conditions for single women were extremely poor …Their situation should be addressed as a matter of urgency
  • there were examples of detainees given tranquilisers inappropriately without their consent
  • Prolonged detention was not adequately explained or reviewed. When detainees made bail applications for independent review of detention by a court, BIA disclosure was sometimes prejudicially late and inaccurate
  • there had been no progress on substantive areas of care since inspectorate recommendations as far back as 2002

Both these reports highlight the terrible conditions and human rights violations that asylum applicants must endure within detention centres, and as the final quote from the Tinsley House report highlights, nothing much has improved since the last inspection. The idea that such places could ever be made happier, more caring, or humane is pure fantasy. You know what we think. Close all detention prisons!

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