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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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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