Ending child detention . . . by deportation

Leaked documents show that families detained with children could be deported within weeks.

It was always too good to be true. From its very first week, the coalition pledged to end the detention of children in immigration removal centres. This appeared to be a welcome move away from the practice of imprisoning some of the world's most vulnerable people and their sometimes very young children.

However, it seems that the pledge will not be carried out quite as the many children's and refugee groups which endorsed the move had wished. Some of these groups had favoured bail or electronic tagging as alternatives.

The Guardian reports today that immigration officials have launched a scheme that will give families with children two weeks in which to leave the country voluntarily. If they do not leave, they will face deportation "at some point" in the two weeks after this.

The briefing paper, leaked to Socialist Worker, shows concern from the UK Border Agency that families facing deportation could have more opportunities to launch community campaigns against their deportation. It says:

The alternative is not to inform the family of the exact time and date of removal, so that they are not prepared. However, this has its own difficulties, which would need analysing and addressing.

It's hardly in keeping with Nick Clegg's observation last week that we need to "restore a sense of decency and liberty to the way we conduct ourselves" on this issue.

In most cases, speedy deportation is simply not humane, particularly when there are children involved. Many of these families will have been in the UK for many months or even years. Their lives are here; the children have been socialised here. The trauma of being uprooted and deported at such breakneck pace is hardly better than that inflicted by being locked up.

The other key point, frequently overlooked, is the danger of returning to many of these countries. There is a culture of denial in the Home Office -- cases are turned down on technicalities, due to a very rigid reading of the Refugee Convention. If an individual or family can't prove that they personally are being targeted or persecuted, they will not qualify for refugee status, regardless of whether they are fleeing from a conflict zone or somewhere with high instances of human rights abuses.

Return to these countries is frequently unsafe and even, in many cases, impossible to arrange. Just because an asylum-seeker's claim has been refused does not mean they have no reason to fear for their safety on return. This is imbued with extra importance when children are involved.

Clegg was right to describe child detention as a "moral outrage". Sadly, that description fits this new strategy, too.

The New Statesman's "No Place for Children" campaign is here.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Q&A: What happened at Barnet's polling stations this morning?

Eager democrats who arrived early in the morning to vote in the London elections were turned away. 

What’s going on?

When polls first opened at Barnet’s 155 polling stations at 7 this morning, many registered voters found that they were not on the station’s voting lists, meaning they were unable to cast their vote. Many reports suggested that the overwhelming majority were turned away. Rules were later relaxed in some, but not all, polling stations to allow those who arrived with their polling cards (which explicitly state they are not needed to cast a vote) to vote.

Why is this happening?

It is, needless to say, unclear. But some reports have suggested that polling station staff only had the updates to the electoral register (that is, those who have newly-registered) rather than the entire register itself. Which makes you wonder why nobody realised before 7am that there might be rather more people wanting to vote in Barnet than the lists suggested.

Is this a conspiracy?

No, of course it’s not. And if you think it is, take the tinfoil hat off and stop watching Russia Today. Barnet is a Tory-led council. If this mess harms any party it is likely to be the Conservatives. We don’t know how Barnet voted for mayor in 2012, but we do know the votes of Barnet plus predominantly Labour-supporting Camden: Boris Johnson got 82,839 first preference votes while Ken Livingstone received 58,354. But remember London’s not just electing a mayor today. It is also electing the members of the Greater London Assembly – and one of them represents the constituency of Barnet and Camden. The incumbent, Andrew Dismore, is from the Labour Party, and is running for reelection. He won fairly comfortably in 2012, far outperforming Ken Livingstone. But Tory campaigners have been talking up the possibility of defeating Dismore, especially in recent days after Labour’s anti-semitism ructions (Barnet has London’s largest Jewish population). Again, if there are voters who failed to vote this morning and cannot to do so later, then that will hurt the Conservatives and help Dismore.

Is it the fault of nasty outsourcers?

Seemingly not. As we’ve written before, Barnet Council is famous for outsourcing vast proportions of its services to private contractors – births and deaths in the borough are now registered elsewhere, for example. But though postal votes and other areas of electoral administration have been outsourced by Barnet, voter registration is performed in-house. This one’s on the council and nobody else.

What has Barnet done about it?

The council initially issued a statement saying that it was “aware of problems with our voter registration lists” and admitting that “a number of people who had not brought their polling card with them were unable to vote”. Which was a bit peculiar given the polling cards say that you don’t need to bring them to vote and there were plenty of reports of people who had polling cards also being denied their democratic rights.

As of 10.40am, the council said that: “All the updated electoral registers are now in place and people can vote as normal.” There appear to be no plans to extend voting hours – and it is not possible to reopen polling tomorrow morning for the frustrated early birds to return.

What does this mean for the result?

It’s very hard to form even a vaguely accurate picture of how many voters who would otherwise have voted will not vote because of this error. But if the margin of victory in the mayoral election or the relevant GLA contest is especially slim, expect calls for a re-run. Frustrated voters could in theory achieve that via the arcane procedure of an election petition, which would then be heard by a special election court, as when Lutfur Rahman’s election as Mayor of Tower Hamlets was declared void in April 2015.

Some have suggested that this may delay the eventual result, but remember that counting for the London elections was not due to begin until Friday morning anyway.

Is there a dodgier barnet than this Barnet?



Henry Zeffman writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2015.