Two classrooms of children could be detained each day under the new Illegal Migration Bill, reveals Citizens UK and Together With Refugees today (27 June), as school children and community leaders demonstrate outside Parliament to call for an end to refugee child detention.
A classroom of school children on Parliament Square wrote messages of support on giant teddies for the two classrooms a day of refugee children who could be detained under the Illegal Migration Bill. They were joined by a children’s choir and refugee artwork. The Bill, which is being voted on tomorrow (28 June) in the House of Lords, would allow for children who arrive in the UK via unofficial routes, such as small boats across the Channel, to be locked up with no time limit. They would have no opportunity to apply for asylum, regardless of the war zones or persecution they have fled.
Those in attendance today were demanding the Government listens to parliamentarians from across the political spectrum who are calling for these measures to be dropped. During the earlier Committee Stage of the bill in the House of Lords a Conservative-led amendment called for the Government to stick to their 2014 commitment of ending refugee child detention.
Nadia (not her real name), a Citizens UK leader who was trafficked into the UK in 2015 and was detained at 18 years old, said: “Detention is mental torture. Children should never be in these spaces and should never be deprived from their freedom. The impact this has on a child’s life and development is immeasurable. Children should be free to grow in a safe environment where they can play and learn. Please protect our children and stop child detention.”
Ijeoma, a Citizens UK leader, who was 3 years old when she came to the UK and was detained as a child, said: “No child should ever go through detention. Imagine putting your child in prison for a week – how would that feel? No child should have their lives damaged by the physical and mental effects of being in such an environment. We must fight to end this despicable practice and provide kids a future free of trauma.”
Professor Helen Storey, Centre for Sustainable Fashion, University of the Arts London (UAL), a Citizens UK member, said: “As an educator, I believe the UK cannot – and must not – lock up refugee children. Faced with multiple global crises, we live in a world where ever-increasing numbers of fellow human beings are forced to flee their homes. We need more than words to show our solidarity and to shine a light on inhumane policymaking. Working alongside displaced people, we can use the power of creativity to envision and shape alternative outcomes for children threatened with detention when reaching our shores, and to shape better lives for us all.”
Child detention for refugees was ended by a Conservative government over a decade ago as a result of years of campaigning by Citizens UK, which led to a landmark commitment by the Government and was written into law in 2014.
The Illegal Migration Bill would hugely expand the Home Secretary’s powers to detain people. Alongside the new duty to remove, the Home Secretary has the power to detain anyone who arrives in the UK without prior permission, including children, whether they are lone children or with their family. The government has not ruled out the use of force on pregnant women and children. There is no time limit for how long someone can be detained for. Current time limits were introduced following serious harm that vulnerable people faced in detention centres. Under the new law, these vital safeguards would no longer apply. This in effect allows for the indefinite detention of children, including unaccompanied children.
Leading medical bodies, including the BMA, Royal College of GPs, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Faculty of Public Health have all raised concerns about the impact of the Bill on children’s mental and physical health. Before the routine detention of children in the UK ended in 2014 medical experts found that almost all detained children suffered a significant deterioration in their mental and physical health as a direct result of their detention. Reported child mental health difficulties included emotional and psychological regression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), clinical depression and suicidal behaviour. Significantly, the consequences of being detained continued to impact children’s lives and well-being long after they were released. Children who are detained also don’t have access to appropriate education that meets their needs and are cut off from interacting with peers, which can have long-term effects on their development.