When the new government said it would ‘end the detention of children for immigration purposes’ some people proclaimed a great victory.
But as the families locked up in Yarl’s Wood reminded everyone in a letter to Nick Clegg (published in last Sunday’s Observer), ‘we are still here in the detention centre’.
That’s why we — being students and members of SOAS Detainee Support — are hosting the Release Carnival in London’s Torrington Square on Saturday 5th June from 12 noon, calling on the government to stop detaining families now.
And that’s why we are protesting today FRIDAY at the annual meeting of G4S, the company that runs Tinsley House where last year a 10 year old girl was so distressed she tried to strangle herself.
And that’s why we’ll keep on protesting until this inhumanity ends.
We feel ashamed of what is done in our name in detention prisons like Tinsley House and Yarl’s Wood. We visit people locked up in Harmondsworth. We try to bring a bit of friendly human contact, and maybe help restore some dignity to their lives.
We protest as well, especially just now about child detention.
The trouble is that the new government, which could have immediately halted the dawn raids and detentions that cause children so much harm, and arranged for the release of the families locked up, has chosen instead to launch a wide-ranging review.
Running the review may be the very Home Office officials who have lied and misrepresented the medical evidence of harm in order to defend and sustain the detention policy.
Representing the interests of asylum families may be charities who have not exactly come out fighting so far.
We want the families released now. That’s not a wild or unreasonable point of view. Here’s Malcolm Stevens, a former government adviser, writing in the Daily Telegraph: ‘Children must be removed urgently from wherever their safety and welfare is at risk. As this includes Yarl's Wood, it must be closed at once.’
Families don’t abscond. Even the UK Border Agency said so, albeit accidentally when executive Dave Wood told a parliamentary committee that families don’t abscond but should be locked up anyway to deter others from even thinking about coming here.
The medical evidence of harm is ‘incontrovertible’ according to Professor Sir Al Aysnley-Green, writing in The Guardian under the headline: ‘Speedy end to child detention is needed.’
And he should know, being the eminent paediatrician who as first Children’s Commissioner for England personally interviewed distressed children at Yarl’s Wood and, with his team of physicians, studied children’s medical and detention records and were appalled by what they found.
There is no excuse for continuing to detain families. That it’s a profitable business is obscene. Nick Buckles, chief executive of G4S, whose meeting we picketed today, gets paid £4,537 every day. Yes, every single day of the week.
If you think it’s not right to lock up innocent children for no proper reason in conditions known to harm their mental health, then please join us.
We’re going to have a happy day on Saturday 5th June, with fantastic children from Shpresa Programme and circus performers and delicious free food, and a whole bunch of people from all sorts of communities, and speakers as well. We want to remind ourselves that we are all in this world together and together we can end child detention now.
We start in Torrington Square at 12noon. And then at 2pm we’re marching on Downing Street. Everyone is welcome. Together we will force the government to end child detention not in a few months’ time, but right away immediately please Mr Cameron. And in case there’s any doubt that means: Now.
Mia Eskelund is a member of SOAS Detainee Support.