Five years of denial: the UK government’s reckless pursuit of a punitive asylum policy — never mind the evidence of harm

As Nick Clegg prepares to make a statement that will either end the scandal of child detention by the immigration authorities, or make the deputy prime minister a mere bagman for more Home Office trickery, Clare Sambrook gathers five years of evidence that the Home Office has variously ignored, badmouthed and buried.

Maybe deputy prime minister Nick Clegg is poised to end for good the scandal of child detention by the immigration authorities in his pre-Christmas statement. Maybe not.

Perhaps they’re making Clegg the bagman for the latest load of Home Office trickery regarding a policy that for years has been characterised by both brutality and deceit. I hope not.

But this is a moment to gather together the shameful evidence of the last five years so that it will not be forgotten. The campaign End Child Detention Now has done this and is publishing it here as an openDemocracy-Our Kingdom Dossier (opens as pdf).

For years, the UK government has knowingly harmed between 1,000 and 2,000 children of asylum-seekers a year, sending dawn hit squads to raid family homes, to search children in their beds and lock them up (sometimes for weeks and months) in places known to harm their mental and physical health. All in the name of ‘border control’, driven by a political desire to look tough on immigration — and executed in venal disregard of a startling truth that the UK Border Agency let slip in evidence to Parliament last year: absconding is not an issue.

The citizens’ campaign End Child Detention Now has gathered some of the compelling research that the Home Office has variously ignored, misrepresented and buried these past five years. The research provides irrefutable evidence of damage done to children by detention and by other harmful and state-sanctioned practices.

Some of this research also offered viable alternatives to detention that the government chose to ignore, preferring dangerous and punitive practices that helped politicians look tough at the expense of children’s health and sanity.

Some of the authors whose work is represented here — respected academics and hard-working physicians — have endured Home Office attempts to undermine their work and trash their professional reputation. The report includes a selection of the government’s countless routine denials and misrepresentations (there is insufficient time and space for them all).

End Child Detention Now calls upon the coalition government to break away from ideologically-driven asylum policy, break with Phil Woolas-style thinking at the Home Office and pursue a proper asylum policy based on evidence and embracing respect for human rights and human dignity. The immediate end of child detention is essential but it is only the first step of a long walk towards decency.

Clare Sambrook is coordinator of End Child Detention Now

About the author

Clare Sambrook, novelist and journalist. Co-editor of OurKingdom and co-founder of End Child Detention Now. Winner of Paul Foot Award and Bevins Prize for outstanding investigative journalism in 2010. Orwell Prize nominee in 2013.