Monday, December 14, 2009

The shame of children held in UK detention centres

PADDINGTON BEAR has joined more than sixty leading children’s authors and illustrators in condemning the government’s arrest and detention of asylum seeking children in prison-like conditions. Jacqueline Wilson, Quentin Blake, Michael Rosen and Julia Donaldson are among more than sixty writers and illustrators who have signed a letter to the Prime Minister condemning the detention policy and supporting calls by leading doctors for its immediate cessation. ‘I call on every single person who hears of what's going on with the detention of asylum-seeking children to write, petition and demonstrate against it,’ said former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen. Internationally acclaimed writer Beverley Naidoo and illustrator Karin Littlewood visited children locked up in Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre on Monday. They performed a workshop for 14 children aged 5 to 16. After the visit, Karin Littlewood said: ‘Usually at our workshops children ask, “Can I take this home with me?” None of these children asked me that. It made me think – where is home for these children?’ She added: ‘You only have to think, what would you feel if that was your family, your sister, your daughter or nephew, being locked up?’
Beverley Naidoo said: ‘We spent a morning with delightful, thoughtful young people, which brings home the fact that our government should not be asking Serco to lock up innocent children. It is done in our name and we should say a loud No.’ Michael Bond sent a message from Paddington Bear: ‘Whenever I hear about children from foreign countries being put into detention centres, I think how lucky I am to be living at number 32 Windsor Gardens with such nice people as Mr. and Mrs. Brown. Mrs. Bird, who looks after the Browns, says if she had her way she would set the children free and lock up a few politicians in their place to see how they liked it!’ Notes to editorsThe UK Border Agency arrests and detains between 1000 and 2000 asylum-seeking children every year, although there is no evidence that families with young children abscond. Dave Wood, UKBA Director of Criminality and Detention, told a Parliamentary Committee in September 2009: ‘Whilst issues are raised about absconding, that is not our biggest issue. It does happen but it is not terribly easy for a family unit to abscond.’Source: Hansard <>
Medical establishment’s protestThe Royal Colleges of Paediatrics and Child Health, General Practitioners and Psychiatrists and the Faculty of Public Health on Wednesday issued a joint statement condemning the Government’s detention policy and calling for it to end ‘without delay’.
The Lorek report NHS paediatricians and psychologists, Lorek et al, reported in the international peer-reviewed journal, Child Abuse & Neglect, (October 2009) that children locked up at Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre were ‘clearly vulnerable, marginalized, and at risk of mental and physical harm as a result of state sanctioned neglect.’ The doctors recorded children’s ‘sexualised behaviour’, older children’s tendency to wet their beds and soil their pants, the ‘increased fear due to being suddenly placed in a facility resembling a prison’, the ‘abrupt loss of home, school, friends and all that was familiar to them.’
Parliamentary Motion94 MPs have signed Chris Mullin MP’s parliamentary motion EDM1982 urging the Government to stop detaining children:
On-line petitionIn only two months, more than 2500 people including hundreds of health professionals, lawyers, teachers & social workers, Bishop Michael Campbell of Lancaster, dozens of leading writers, plus Emma Thompson and Colin Firth signed a petition calling on the Government to stop detaining children. <>
WOMEN FOR REFUGEE WOMEN arranged Naidoo & Littlewood’s visitContact: Natasha Walter020 7065 0772
END CHILD DETENTION NOW coordinated the author letter Contact Esmé MadillMobile 0777 3350018

Dear Mr Brown,
As writers and illustrators of books for children, we urge you to stop detaining children whose families have sought asylum in the UK.We strongly support those doctors represented by the Royal Colleges of Paediatrics & Child Health, General Practitioners and Psychiatrists, the Faculty of Public Health and the Children’s Commissioner Sir Al Aynsley-Green, in the concerns they have expressed about the trauma being experienced by children whose families have sought asylum in the UK.
These children have already had their worlds torn apart and witnessed their parents in turmoil and in stress. No wonder that paediatricians and psychologists report that child detainees are confused, fearful, unable to sleep, suffer headaches, tummy pains and weight loss and exhibit severe emotional and behavioural problems (Child Abuse and Neglect 2009; 33: 573 - <> .
The UK Border Agency asserts that ‘Treating children with care and compassion is a priority’, but it continues with the policy of child detention which has been shown to harm children. The Government must end child detention, now.

Beverley Naidoo
Michael Rosen
Jacqueline Wilson
Michael Morpurgo
Quentin Blake
Carol Ann Duffy
Michael Bond
Benjamin Zephaniah
Philip Pullman
Jackie Kay
David Almond
Jamila Gavin
Lynne Reid Banks
Tim Bowler
Meg Rosoff
Francesca Simon
Elizabeth Laird
Jeremy Strong
Louisa Young (Zizou Corder)
Mary Hoffman
Linda Newbery
Gillian Cross
Julia Donaldson
Catherine and Laurence Anholt
Bernard Ashley
Tony Bradman
Catherine Johnson
Celia Rees
Ifeoma Onyefulu
Karin Littlewood
Niki Daly
Chris Cleave
Bali Rai
Eleanor Updale
Prodeepta Das
Debjani Chatterjee
Moira Munro
Anne Rooney
Elen Caldecott
Frances Thomas
Gwen Grant
John Dougherty
Julia Green
Karen King
Katherine Langrish
Leila Rasheed
Leslie Wilson
Mary Hooper
Ann Harries
Ann Turnbull
Rosemary Stones
Shereen Pandit
Nicki Cornwell
Valerie Bloom
Anna Perera
Maya Naidoo
Graham Gardner
Alan Gibbons
Jan Needle
Anthony McGowan
Paul Stewart
Chris Riddell
Katharine QuarmbyAlly Kennen

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