Submission from the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Church in Scotland. June 2010
Review into ending the Detention of Children for Immigration Purposes
The following Response is from the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Church in Scotland.
The National Commission for Justice and Peace is the body which advises the Scottish Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in matters relating to social justice, international peace and human rights, and promotes action in these areas.
We are aware that, with the end of detention in Dungavel, there is no Scottish locus for the issue. Nevertheless, having questioned the wisdom of detaining children of asylum families within the UK for many years, it would be wrong to think that it is no longer our problem, simply because it is no longer on our patch of the UK.
For a number of years, the Commission has seen asylum as an issue of key significance in our society. In particular, the Commission and the Bishops’ Conference have expressed opposition to the practice of detaining the children of asylum seekers as contrary to our legal obligations under international agreements on basic human rights. This opposition is based on the social teaching of the Catholic Church which has as a basic imperative the dignity and integrity of the family as a place for children to grow and to become confident in the wider society. This is rooted, not only in the injunctions to compassion for the oppressed and homeless, but also the reminder, ‘You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you yourselves were aliens in the land of Egypt’ (Ex 22:21).
While the terms of reference concern children, it is impossible to consider children in isolation from their parents; unless it is that the children cannot be held responsible for the motives that led their parents to seek asylum.
While one cannot absolutely separate asylum seekers who have undergone a process of migration, we are concerned at the continuing failure to clearly differentiate in the public mind asylum seekers from other immigrants. This gap in public awareness is regularly and deliberately played on by media and other commentators.
We are concerned at the continuing lack of attempts to portray asylum in a positive light. It is an honourable and a praiseworthy tradition in the UK, but too often now asylum is seen as little more than a version of illegal immigration. There is an open ended process of association that too often goes unchallenged as well, which suggests linkages between immigration and criminality and extremism. While there are those who do exploit the asylum system, all the more reason not to make them its central concern.
In fact there are, among the main countries of origin of asylum seekers, countries where there has been social disruption as a result of recent or continuing military action by the UK, its allies and other forces. Until there is a greater effort made to seek diplomatic rather than military solutions, the problems of asylum are likely to persist if not increase.
Similarly, the suggestion that people seek asylum in the UK because of perceived better standards for themselves and their children needs to be challenged. A very useful resource here is the report from January of this year, Chance or choice? Understanding why asylum seekers come to the UK, presenting the findings of research commissioned by the Refugee Council, which was undertaken by Professor Heaven Crawley, Director of the Centre for Migration Policy Research at the University of Swansea http://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/Resources/Refugee%20Council/downloads/rcchance.pdf
The opposition of the Scottish Catholic Bishops to the detention of children has been based on the rights enshrined in Article 37(b) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, requiring ‘that detention is used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.’ The onus, therefore, should not be on critics to provide reasons for compliance with an international responsibility, but rather on government to justify its non compliance.
We welcome the current government’s statement of intent to move towards stopping detaining children. We are encouraged by commitments to aim for speedier processing and resolution of claims for asylum. We hope, however, that this does not lead to cutting corners. Recently announced plans for a ‘reintegration centre’ in Afghanistan to accept young unaccompanied minors after deportation do not inspire confidence. Suggestions that the UK is seeking to obtain a European consensus for deportation of unaccompanied minors to reintegration centres in countries of origin is a further source of concern. It raises suspicions that the aim is quite simply to move the problem out of the UK.
The main reason for detention –the risk of flight or absconding – always seemed to be less likely for a family and children than for an individual and lacked any significant evidence. The key facts the 2009 Home Affairs Committee Report were able to extract show that
• Nearly 1,000 children a year are detained in UKBA immigration detention centres.
• On average, children spend over a fortnight in detention (15.58 days). Detention for up to 61 days is not uncommon. On 30 June 2009, 10 of the 35 children in detention had been held for between 29 days and 61 days.
• It costs £130 a day to keep a person in detention; in the most extreme situations, detaining a family of four for between 4 and 8 weeks costs over £20,000.
• Over 90% of judicial reviews do not even get leave for hearing.
We would agree with the majority of the recommendations in this 2009 Home Affairs Committee Report The Detention of Children in the Immigration System, within the framework of the seminal report Every Child Matters. We would also draw attention to the more detailed recommendations in the 2008 report of the Children’s Commissioner for England, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, The Arrest and Detention of Children subject to Immigration Control.
Finally, we would like to ensure that the UK Borders Agency’s procedures for removal and deportation are kept under close scrutiny. The mentality of ‘dawn raids’ and unnotified removal and transfer serves no useful purpose. It can hardly help children who may already have undergone terrifying experiences to find similar intimidatory tactics as a prelude to their expulsion. It raises concerns about the needless use of force at any stage of the removal procedure, presumably based on a failure to conduct a proper risk assessment. It certainly sits ill with the expressed intentions in the Minister’s announcement of the review on 17 June 2010; and his answers to the concerns raised in the ensuing dialogue with the Rt Hon Keith Vaz (Hansard, Col 211 WH - 217 WH) (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm100617/halltext/100617h0001.htm)
Our concern, and the basis for this submission, is the well being of children, who through no fault of their own, find themselves uprooted from home and at the mercy of bureaucracy. They are entitled to the protection of law which has often been absent in their country of origin. Some indeed may have been born in this country and never have known anything else. They are entitled to some kind of security, both within the family and within the social context in which they live. This may best be achieved if they and their families can be made to feel they are something other than an unwanted burden, swamping the country and taking up resources that would be better used on existing citizens.
There is plentiful evidence that children of asylum seekers show high levels of achievement and sociability in school, as shown by the frequent campaigns against detention and removal by their peers. They are often living examples of reintegration after horrendous experiences and, as such, role models and examples of the good citizenship which is an integral part of the curriculum.
Governments cannot legislate hospitality or compassion. However, as the American vice President Hubert Humphrey said: ‘The moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.’ This country has long benefited from the entrepreneurial flair of those who have sought and found a new home here. Who knows what futures we may be turning away, or indeed what future bitterness we may be sowing by rejecting those with a claim on our hospitality?
Scottish Catholic Justice and Peace Commission
28, Bath Street
GLASGOW G2 2BX