Tuesday, January 12, 2010

UK Border Agency: Invasion of the Baby-Snatchers

The thundering knock came early in the morning. It was 6.30am. Without waiting for an answer the security chain across the door was smashed from its fittings. Feet thundered up the staircase. The five children, all under the age of 10, were alarmed to be woken from their sleep by the dozen burly strangers who burst into their bedrooms, switched on the lights and shouted at them to get up.

This is not a police state. It is Manchester in supposedly civilised Britain in the 21st century. There is a clue to what this is about in the names of the children: Nardin, who is 10; Karin who is seven; the three-year-old twins Bishoy and Anastasia, and their one-year-old baby sister Angela.

Their parents, Hany and Samah Mansour, are Coptic Christians who fled to the UK after a campaign of persecution by a group of Islamic fundamentalists in Egypt whose friends in the secret police tortured Hany. But even though six Coptic Christians were shot dead by Muslim extremists only last week in a town not far from their home, the British Government has decided that it does not believe them. And so Britain's deportation police have launched another of their terrifying dawn raids on sleeping children.

Paul Valleley on the fate of another family who fell foul of the UK immigration system, and the inhumane treatment of children and families within the detention centres. It's a long piece, but the detail is necessary - over 1300 children were held in immigration centres in 2008-9, centres which have been condemned by a number of independent reports into child welfare. The Royal College of Paediatrics and the Royal College of Psychiatry recently investigated the mental health of children held at detention centres:

It shows that every single one of the children seen in Yarl's Wood by a team of paediatricians and psychologists displayed some signs of distress and 73 per cent of children they examined had developed clinically significant emotional and behavioural problems since being detained. None had previously had such problems..... All the children seen by clinical psychologists presented as being disorientated, confused and frightened. More than half, who had previously been well behaved at home and in school, had developed conduct problems.

There is currently an early day motion in the Commons calling for an end to child detention, with over 100 signatories.

Valleley concludes his piece:
When a family is ripped so brutally from their home it is not just those who are carted away by the police to whom an injustice is done. Something is rent in the very fabric of the community. "The second time they were taken away was very disturbing for the rest of Karin's class," said Anna Ward. "The other children were all crying they were very shaken by it. It was as if they didn't know who to trust."

What would happen, I ask 10-year-old Nardin, if the family gets another sunrise knock on their front door. She cuts me off, mid-question. "Don't say knock," she corrects me, "because they don't knock. They just smash the chain off the lock and march in."

What kind of country allows that happen to innocent children as they sleep in their own beds?

Mine, I'm ashamed to say.

Robespierre "Terror is nothing other than justice: prompt, severe, inflexible."

Update: and things are going to get worse. The UKBA is restricting the number of cases where it's required to give 72 hours notice of removal, which gives people the opportunity to contact a lawyer.
The current 72-hour notice rule was imposed following strong condemnation by judges of the Home Office resorting to trickery and devious tactics in order to deprive people of the opportunity to challenge their removal - including inviting people to 'interviews' where they are detained, and swooping on homes after working hours to detain families for removal early the following morning.


  1. This is very disturbing stuff. There was a programme about Yarls Wood on Radio 4 last week (possibly on Woman's Hour — I think I caught it in the car one mid-morning). The Government spokesman involved slid around saying that various things had been improved since a damning paediatrician's report a couple of years ago — he didn't cover this dimension. It's hard to argue with the idea there is a nasty Dickensian streak of heartlessness and cruelty just under the surface of our supposedly liberal open society...

  2. There doesn't seem to be a single independent voice which has anything good to say about Yarls Wood, or the detention system in general. Though I'm sure the UKBA do some good work, we have to question whether certain parts of it are fit for purpose. I recall the same question being levelled at the entire Home Office not so long ago.

    The government seems to have Tsars and Commissioners aplenty. Is there anyone who's job it is to hold the UKBA to account?

    Couldn't find anything about the radio prog, but here are some reports from the BBC's Mark Easton last year:

  3. We've just celebrated the nativity of our :ord Jesus Christ, who was an asylum seeker in Egypt, and now his followers there have to seek asylum elsewhere, where their fellow followers turn them away.

    It's a sad world we live in.