Shine A Light

Has Meg Hillier gone mad?

The Home Office minister is in la la land over child detention.
Clare Sambrook
19 March 2010

Home Office minister Meg Hillier took a leap into la la land on today’s BBC Daily Politics Programme, claiming that if the government stopped locking up asylum seekers and their children, then the price of trafficked children would rise, putting more children at risk of trafficking.

I am not making this up.

Hillier, who has three young children of her own, said: ‘Now with children being detained I’m faced with a number of options. One is that we just stop it altogether, but then we would have children, I think, with a very high price on them, because we’d actually be saying, if you have a child you will never be detained to be deported. And I think that it would raise the risk of child trafficking and put a very high price on a child, so I’d be very reluctant to go down that route.’

It’s not as if Hillier blurted out this nonsense live and inadvertently. The interview was pre-recorded and broadcast with a package that included a chilling piece to camera from Michael Morpurgo outside Yarl’s Wood detention centre.

Relations between Meg Hillier and the truth have been strained for some time.

Just before Christmas she stood up in the Commons and repeated allegations known to be false in an attempt to bury medical evidence of damage to children detained at Yarl’s Wood.

According to the medical evidence, children experienced, 'increased fear due to being suddenly placed in a facility resembling a prison', they suffered weight loss and tummy pains, older children were so stressed they wet their beds and soiled their pants.

Hillier told the House that the doctors conducting the research had failed to share their findings with medical staff at Yarl’s Wood.

Not true, as evidenced by a stack of Home Office documents sitting on my desk that name the Border Agency and Yarl’s Wood staff who attended detailed discussions with the doctors about their very disturbing findings.

Last month Hillier put her name to a laughable rebuttal of a Guardian article about the Yarl’s Wood hunger strike.

Purporting to correct the Guardian’s ‘unfounded allegations’, Hillier’s rebuttal, circulated to all MPs, trotted out some favourite porkies of her own, including: ‘all the detainees are treated with dignity and respect’, and ‘Detention is a vital tool in the removal of failed asylum seekers, ex-foreign national prisoners and others whose application to stay have been fully considered by the UK Border Agency and the independent Courts but have failed.’ As Hillier well knows, many detainees never get their case before a court.

The truth is that there is no evidence that families with young children are likely to abscond, as the UK Border Agency’s own Dave Wood let slip before a parliamentary committee last year: ‘Whilst issues are raised about absconding, that is not our biggest issue. It does happen but it is not terribly easy for a family unit to abscond.’ 

Hillier should have stopped talking while she was still making sense. ‘Now with children being detained I’m faced with a number of options. One is that we just stop it altogether.’

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