‘Months’ simply will not do

Our celebration at the news that children would no longer be incarcerated in asylum detention centres seems to have been premature.

Child detention ended at the notorious Dungavel centre yesterday. That’s the good news. Fantastic! But hold on, the bad news is that families from Dungavel now have to endure a 9-hour trip in a prison van to the Yarls Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire.

In March, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Dame Anne Owers, said there were “troubling” concerns over the welfare of children at Yarl’s Wood, which holds about 300 people. It is also hundreds of miles away from the friends and lawyers of the families originally detained in Dungavel.

Here’s the experience of one mother and her 8-month-old baby who were transferred from Dungavel to Yarl’s Wood yesterday:

‘I told them please don’t send me and my baby in the van for nine hours, she is too young, I asked them to speak to my lawyer. But she just told me, “Look either you go in the van or we will take your baby in a separate van and you won’t see her until you get to Yarl’s Wood.”

According to Robina Qureshi, the Glasgow-based charity director who took the mother’s call, 25 year old Sehar Shebaz had been vomiting since the early hours and baby Wanya was distressed.

Qureshi says Sehar, from Pakistan, who has lived in the UK for three years, has never tried to abscond, and has reported fortnightly to Brand Street Reporting Centre, as required. Indeed, Sehar and Wanya were seized on Monday while reporting at Brand Street as usual, just days after the new government claimed: ‘We will end the detention of children for immigration purposes.’

Why were they ever locked up in the first place? She has not failed to report or given any sign that she is about to do a runner. The government has pledged to end the detention of children ‘within months’, claiming that the delay is because alternative arrangements need to be put in place for families. But why are these necessary for families who have been abiding by the conditions and reporting regularly?

If the UK Border Agency is going to carry on with business as usual, then continuing to hold families in detention for the next few ‘months’ is just not good enough. ‘Months’ is long enough for still more children to be traumatised.

If you go to the ‘End Child Detention’ site and look on the right-hand side of the page, you’ll see a model letter to send to your MP. Please, just do it.

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