RESPONSE TO GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCEMENT TO CLOSE CEDARS.
Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary (LD4SOS) are shocked and appalled at the Government statement today about the closure of Pre Departure Centre for families with children, Cedars, transferring them to detention centre, Tinsley House.
Chair of LD4SOS, Suzanne Fletcher, who has visited Cedars, and been part of an Independent Monitoring Board until the change of Government last year says “ Cedars provided an oasis with care and calm at a very traumatic time for those families with children who very sadly were being sent against their will back to their country of origin. Children should never have to be behind the locked doors of a detention centre, and our Government should be ashamed of such a backward step.”
Alistair Carmichael MP, Liberal Democrat spokesman for Home Affairs said “Cedars was an expensive centre to run but that was the price of a civilised way of dealing with some of the most vulnerable young people in our care.
Ending the detention of children in lock down institutions was something that the Liberal Democrats forced Theresa May to do against her will. Now there are no restraints on her she will indulge the more callous instincts of her party.
Having Tories in government is a bit like sharing your home with a cat. You may think that you have a domestic pet but the feral animal is never far beneath the surface. “
Dr Gemma Stockford, chair of Gatwick Detainees Visitor Group, and LD4SOS member says “It is inhumane to incarcerate children and damages them in the long and short term. This is not the way to create harmony between nations and is totally unjustified on practicality or any other grounds. It shows that this government will treat anyone in any way in order to prove how tough they are.”
Cedars was opened to fulfil the pledge made by the coalition government, pushed by Sarah Teather and Nick Clegg, to end the detention of children for immigration purposes. We were proud of this pledge, and there was a dramatic drop from 1,120 children being locked up in Yarlswood Detention Centre for an indefinite time, which ran into weeks and months. Cedars was not a detention centre, children could only be there for a maximum of 72 hours without the written permission of the Home Secretary, and the welfare of the children was in the care of Barnardos.
Parliament has now risen for the recess, the Minister having made this announcement on the last day, but we will be pursuing the Minister for action and answers on the following points.
- The Family Returns process needs to be not only retained, as in the Government statement, but needs to be given more powers. A number, which has never been released but suspected to be at least half, of the families that are taken to Cedars prior to removal are not actually removed but end up back in the community as a result of further appeals. What is the Minster going to do to ensure that for families taken to Tinsley House, it really is the last resort ?
- There is no mention in the Government statement about the 72 hour limit on the time that a family can be detained in Pre Departure Accommodation, unless there is the written agreement of the Home Secretary. Will the Minister reiterate that this time limit will be used for any arrangement at Tinsley House ?
- The withdrawal of the service by Barnardo’s is a backward move, and their valuable service, providing practical and emotional support to these vulnerable children must be continued to work with all the families in Tinsley House. Will the Minster make contact with Barnardo’s and ask them to continue that work ?
- The latest report of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) on Tinsley House shows a lot of concern about the transport arrangements and how families are treated during transport to and from the centre. Will the Minister ensure that immediate improvements are made before Tinsley House is used for those who would have used Cedars ?
- Similarly there are concerns in the above IMB report on the too short time families are there between being transported there and being removed for a flight. Will the Minister ensure that there is sufficient time for all families, whether Border Cases or those who have been here as asylum seekers, to rest between being taken to Tinsley House, and the airport ?
- Families being taken from Cedars were accompanied by staff from Barnardos on the traumatic journey to the airport, will the Minister ensure that this continues?
- The IMB report talks of essential upgrading of facilities at Tinsley House. Progress on this must be closely monitored. One of the reasons why the facilities at Cedars were so appropriate was because potential and past users of centres were involved in the design. This could be done again. Will the Minister ensure that all upgrading is completed before Cedars is closed, and take the views of families who have been or likely to use such facilities have their views taken into account ?
- There is no mention in the Government statement about the work done at Cedars around preparation for return to the country of origin, especially for the children who have never been to that country or cannot remember it. Nor is there any mention of medical support such as immunisations and issue of mosquito nets. Will the Minister make sure that this work continues ?
- If Cedars is not to be used any more consideration needs to be given to using the facilities there for vastly improving the way others are detained before departure. Also consideration could be given to using it for an initial reception centre for unaccompanied children arriving in the UK before being taken to those who will care for them. Will the Minister look at these suggestions for the future of Cedars ?
- The facilities at Heathrow for families arriving there, and needing to return on the next flight are appalling and raised in every IMB report. These children too must be treated better and steps must be taken for these to be upgraded too. Will the Minister report on progress on improving these facilities ?
There is strong reaction from the voluntary sector on the closure, such as:
Detention Forum http://detentionforum.org.uk/closure-of-cedars-pre-departure-accommodation-announced/ ;Refugee Council http://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/latest/news/4694_government_to_close_cedars_detention_unit and AVID has spoken out too.
Those who are probably the closest to the issue, Barnardo’s , response to the closure is http://www.barnardos.org.uk/news/Barnardos-statement-on-Cedars-accommodation/press_releases.htm?ref=117378
The full Government statement on the closure of Cedars is here. http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2016-07-21/HCWS114