A boy was locked up for months at a UK immigration facility earlier this year, according to freshly released official data. The revelation dramatically exposes the falsity of government claims that the harmful practice of detaining children for administrative convenience has ended.
The Home Office does not reveal the boy’s exact age or the precise length of his incarceration, only that he was aged 12 to 16, and held for between two and three months at Campsfield House, an adult immigration jail near Oxford.
Classed as an immigration removal centre, Campsfield holds 216 male detainees, many in multiple occupancy rooms furnished with bunkbeds. It is run for the government by commercial contractors Reliance Security Task Management.
In all 37 children were locked up for immigration purposes in the first three months of 2013. The Home Office concedes that the number would have been still higher, but Tinsley House removal centre, near Gatwick, was closed to new detainees for most of the period due to an outbreak of infectious illness.
“Since the start of 2011, the overall trend for children entering detention has risen,” said the Home Office.
Yet the government maintains the fiction that it has ended child detention as it promised to do in the Coalition Agreement of May 2010. “We will end child detention for immigration purposes,” they said then.
In December 2010 deputy prime minister Nick Clegg announced the immediate closure of the family unit at the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire. He promised child detention would “end completely” by May 2011.
The Liberal Democrat leader spoke movingly of children “locked up, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months, in one case for 190 days — something no innocent child should ever have to endure”. Clegg’s rhetoric of compassion gave his party a much needed ‘win’ in a pre-Christmas period rocked by student protest and accusations of betrayal.
But child detention did not end. Instead it was rebranded as “family friendly pre-departure accommodation”. Or PDA for short. The government opened a new detention facility in August 2011, in the Sussex village of Pease Pottage. They called it Cedars, a government acronym for Compassion, Empathy, Dignity, Approachability, Respect and Support.
The first report on Cedars by the Prisons Inspectorate, in October last year, revealed that staff had used “substantial force” against a pregnant woman causing “significant risk of injury to her unborn child”. Children and their parents had been forcefully restrained. One mother had been grabbed by her hair. More than half of the families held been arrested in dawn raids repeatedly criticised over years as unnecessarily distressing.
Both Cedars and Tinsley House, the facility near Gatwick airport where a 10 year old girl tried to strangle herself in 2009, are run by the security company G4S. That company is currently facing an inquest over the death of another detainee, Jimmy Mubenga. Charity outsourcer Barnardo’s works in partnership with G4S at Cedars.
Since December 2010 child detention has been recorded in every quarter.
The numbers of children detained are far lower than under Labour when they peaked at perhaps 2000 annually, but higher than might have been inferred from Clegg’s forecast of “tiny numbers of cases” detained as “an absolutely last resort”.
Remarkably, Clegg continues to take credit for ending child detention even though it demonstrably goes on. “It’s because of us that children are no longer detained for immigration purposes,” he claimed this past March. This was one of his “proudest achievements in government”.