This article comes from Tom Sanderson. You can read the full article in OpenDemocracy.
Britain’s leading children’s charity helps the world’s biggest security company lock up children who have committed no crime.
This past summer I’ve been trying to get some answers from Barnardo’s, the children’s charity, about their three-year partnership with the world’s biggest security company, G4S. Working together under a UK government contract, G4S and Barnardo’s hold asylum seekers and their children at a secure facility called Cedars in West Sussex, within easy reach of Gatwick Airport. CEDARS is an acronym for Compassion, Empathy, Dignity, Approachability, Respect and Support.
What is Barnardo’s doing in the immigration detention business? And how can a charity that claims to “fight for the UK’s most vulnerable children, supporting the children who need it most”, partner up with G4S?
That’s G4S, a company that supplies the Israeli military in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, that deploys ex-Gurkhas against environmental protesters in the UK, and that has just won a contract to support Guántanamo?
Under Britain’s Labour government, thousands of children, many of them born in Britain, were held with their parents in immigration detention centres in conditions proven to cause them lasting harm. As the Refugee Children’s Consortium notes: “After release from detention, the majority of families experienced on-going and persistent effects on their mental and emotional health.”
Many of the families had valid asylum claims and subsequently obtained leave to remain. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg called the practice of child detention “state-sponsored cruelty”. In May 2010, the Coalition Agreement committed the new government to ending child detention for immigration purposes.
But instead of ending child detention, the government opened a new kind of lock-up, called ‘pre-departure accommodation’, with soft furnishings and a ‘family-friendly’ decor.
The Home Office selected G4S to run the new family-friendly facility, regardless of its renown among migrants as the company that killed Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan father of five who died while being heavily restrained by three G4S guards.
In March 2011 the Home Office named Barnardo’s as G4S’s partner in the business. Or, as the government’s press release put it: “Barnardo’s help asylum families. Children’s charity Barnardo’s will provide support and accommodation to migrants who have no right to be in the UK.” The new centre opened in August 2011.
The government set up a new ‘Independent Family Returns Panel’ to oversee the repackaged system. But with medical advice provided by Dr John W. Keen, a man who had been giving controversial assessments on asylum seekers for the UK Border Agency for years, it wasn’t quite as new or independent as advertised.
Barnardo’s drew a lot of criticism for their involvement in what they like to call, euphemistically, ‘the PDA’. In an attempt to deflect criticism, in August 2011, then chief executive Anne-Marie Carrie publicly set out what she called Barnardo’s ‘red lines’ — commitments which ranged from mild (the charity would “speak out about any concerns it has with regards the new immigration process for families”) to the meaninglessly convoluted:
In order for the government to be held accountable to its commitment to end child detention, we insist that it must release figures each year on the number of families returned – be that through voluntary, assisted, required or enforced return. Barnardo’s will withdraw its services if after a year more than 10% of these families are accommodated and returned through the PDA. As the process is new, we appreciate that it may take time to embed, and so this measure will be introduced after August 2012 – however we would expect to see this figure fall significantly over time.
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