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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Jeremy Corbyn challenged by Labour MPs to sack Ken Livingstone from defence review

Former mayor of London criticised at PLP meeting over comments on 7 July bombings. 

After Jeremy Corbyn's decision to give Labour MPs a free vote over air strikes in Syria, tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting was less fractious than it could have been. But one grandee was still moved to declare that the "ferocity" of the attacks on the leader made it the most "uplifting" he had attended.

Margaret Beckett, the former foreign secretary, told the meeting: "We cannot unite the party if the leader's office is determined to divide us." Several MPs said afterwards that many of those who shared Corbyn's opposition to air strikes believed he had mishandled the process by appealing to MPs over the heads of the shadow cabinet and then to members. David Winnick declared that those who favoured military action faced a "shakedown" and deselection by Momentum activists. "It is completely unacceptable. They are a party within a party," he said of the Corbyn-aligned group. The "huge applause" for Hilary Benn, who favours intervention, far outweighed that for the leader, I'm told. 

There was also loud agreement when Jack Dromey condemned Ken Livingstone for blaming Tony Blair's invasion of Iraq for the 7 July 2005 bombings. Along with Angela Smith MP, Dromey demanded that Livingstone be sacked as the co-chair of Labour's defence review. Significantly, Benn said aftewards that he agreed with every word Dromey had said. Corbyn's office has previously said that it is up to the NEC, not the leader, whether the former London mayor holds the position. In reference to 7 July, an aide repeated Corbyn's statement that he preferred to "remember the brilliant words Ken used after 7/7". 

As on previous occasions, MPs complained that the leader failed to answer the questions that were put to him. A shadow minister told me that he "dodged" one on whether he believed the UK should end air strikes against Isis in Iraq. In reference to Syria, a Corbyn aide said afterwards that "There was significant support for the leader. There was a wide debate, with people speaking on both sides of the arguments." After David Cameron's decision to call a vote on air strikes for Wednesday, leaving only a day for debate, the number of Labour MPs backing intervention is likely to fall. One shadow minister told me that as few as 40-50 may back the government, though most expect the total to be closer to the original figure of 99. 

At the end of another remarkable day in Labour's history, a Corbyn aide concluded: "It was always going to be a bumpy ride when you have a leader who was elected by a large number outside parliament but whose support in the PLP is quite limited. There are a small number who find it hard to come to terms with that result."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.