Britain is still no refuge for refugees

originally from: The Guardian
27th July 2011

When the government announced last year that it would end the detention of children for immigration purposes, it felt as if a ray of sunshine had broken into a debate that had become increasingly dark and cruel. I work alongside women and children who have fled persecution to seek asylum in this country. Too many are disbelieved by decision makers, and refused leave to remain. They can then be forced into destitution, locked up, or dragged to an airport. Yet their experiences are shrouded in a darkness made up of both ignorance and hostility.

So what a relief it was to hear Nick Clegg announce an end to the “state-sponsored cruelty” of detaining children. Did this mean that we were going to have a more honest and transparent debate about what was happening to asylum seekers in the UK?

As the months have rolled on, it has become clear that this hope was misplaced. Detention never quite went away, and is now making a comeback. The proposed new centre at Pease Pottage in Sussex will provide a locked environment for up to nine families at a time.

And as Nick Hardwick, the chief inspector of prisons, said this week, the refurbishment and expansion of the children’s unit at Tinsley House removal centre, at Gatwick airport, also “sits uneasily” with a commitment to end the detention of families. If a locked centre is called “pre-departure accommodation”, does it cease to be detention?

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