Ending children’s detention: hope deferred

November 11, 2010 — Comment

Written by Frances Webber

The announcement that children will continue to be detained until at least March 2011 reveals the coalition’s true priorities.

It was supposed to be the face of the compassionate, caring coalition, defying cynical critics and overriding entrenched bureaucratic cruelty to do the right thing. ‘We will end the immigration detention of children’, the bold announcement said, one of the earliest of the new administration.

But within weeks it was apparent that the new government was not making radical departures from the old. First of all, the announcement was, and remained, in the future tense – ‘we will end’, not ‘we have ended’ this barbaric practice, so harmful to children that it creates depression and attempted suicide in ten-year-olds. It was not possible to put the new policy into practice, we were told, until alternative ways had been found of securing the removal of families with children, who were likely to abscond otherwise. In other words, doing the right thing was not unconditional.

A review was announced. The government would look at all other ways round the problem of getting rid of these families, including the detention of a parent where necessary to ‘secure the attendance for removal of the whole family’. Never mind that the trauma of separation from a parent is no less than the trauma of detention. In fact, immigration minister Damian Green told parliament on 17 June, the review might just conclude that it was necessary to detain children after all – for the shortest possible period, of course, just until removal.

Where had we heard those words before? Could it have been … the previous, Labour immigration minister? Or the one before? Or the one before that?

Can we expect an announcement in March 2011 that finally, no child is to be detained from that point on? Or is the government hoping that expectations will have been sufficiently adjusted by then that no one will hold the government to its promise?

Related links

Read an IRR News story: ‘Waking nightmares: arrest and detention of children’

Read an IRR News story: ‘Child detention review: the challenge for NGOs’

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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