On the 22nd January 2019, Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) brought together many voices from across the migrant rights sector for a vital discussion about detention, deportation and separated families titled “In Whose Best Interests?” Over 140 people braved the first snow of the season to attend the event at Linklaters LLP and hear from expert speakers:
- Nick Beales, Legal Manager, Separated Families’ Project, BID
- Mike, formerly detained and facing deportation from the UK
- Nathan Ward, former G4S manager, now Anglican vicar, helped expose abuse in Brook House
- Amelia Gentleman, Guardian journalist
- Carmen Kearney, Legal Manager Article 8 & Deportation Project
Each speaker shared their own experiences of navigating immigration policy and the hostile environment, exploring themes such as children’s rights, public pressures, the role of the media, Home Office policy and unlawful detention.
“More often than not, it seems that parents are detained as a matter of course, and any section 55 consideration appears to be nothing more than just a tick box exercise” – Nick Beales on how the Home Office safeguards children.
Nick Beales, BID Legal Manager shared his experience working with detained parents separated from their children. Drawing directly from official Home Office documents and client case studies, Nick evidenced how the Home Office routinely breaches its own policy by neglecting its statutory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. He shared three case studies where children were taken into care as a result of their parent’s detention and how these are not isolated incidents but the outcome of much broader systematic failings to apply the ‘safeguards’ detailed within Home Office guidance.
“Detention is horrible. Unless you’ve been in detention, you have no idea what it’s like. It’s mental torture. At least as a prisoner you know your release date. In detention you don't know anything" - Mike, former BID Client sharing his experience of detention.
Mike’s powerful testimony was a stark account of the needless suffering and trauma caused by detention. He shared how being detained five times had traumatised his family, describing it as a long nightmare. He described how his detention affected the emotional and social development of his children with one daughter requiring counselling and the other living in constant fear that he may be detained again, anxious each time he drops her off at school or reads her stories at bed time in case she does not see him again. A pseudonym has been used and no images or clips have been shared to protect his identity.
“We have a government whose policy is ineffective and not working, regardless of what you think of detention, but we also have policy makers who are deeply incompetent and unqualified in the field that they’re writing policies on.” - Nathan Ward on his management experience at G4S.
Nathan shared stories from his time working in management for Home Office contractor G4S, including the inappropriate handling of detained vulnerable adults and families by G4S and the police. He also described the effect of public and political pressures on spending within detention centres, for example the restriction of a detainee’s daily food budget to the equivalent of one free school meal. Nathan described his journey from detention centre manager to whistle-blower, stating in the end he felt he could no longer make small reformations around the fringes of the system which was unjust at is core.
“Each time the home office would respond in a way that suggested that the fault was with the individual” – Amelia Gentleman on the Home Office's initial response to the Windrush cases she wrote about.
Award-winning Guardian Journalist, Amelia Gentleman shared her experiences of breaking one of the most important news stories of 2018, the Windrush scandal. She contrasted the Home Office response pre- and post-scandal, describing the slow shift from blaming the individual, to accepting responsibility, and eventually the resignation of the then Home Secretary Amber Rudd. She highlighted how the ‘Windrush scandal’ is a misnomer as the problem extends beyond the Windrush generation across the commonwealth, and drew attention to the widespread suffering and injustice caused by Home Office policy.
“It’s hard to put into words just how casually the Home Office approach the best Interests of the Children, it really is lip service. I’ve been with BID for four years on the deportation project and I’ve not seen one case where I can say yes, they have really looked at the circumstances here” - Carmen Kearney, BID Legal manager on her experience working with parents facing deportation.
Carmen Kearney drew on her experiences of managing BID’s Article 8 Deportation Advice Project (ADAP) and gave powerful examples of how the Home Office breaches its own guidance titled ‘Every Child Matters’. She shared real life quotes from Home Office decision letters including one advising that her client could ‘maintain the parental relationship […] from abroad via modern methods of communication.’ Carmen has found the Home Office’s consideration of expert evidence to be wholly inadequate and emphasised the responsibility we have to continue to hold the Home Office to account through case work, policy work and strategic litigation.
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Here at BID we believe all detention is harmful and should be ended. Our vision is of a world free of immigration detention, where people are not deprived of their liberty for immigration purposes. We are powered towards this by the generous support of sympathetic volunteers, members and donors who keep our vital services going. If you are feeling inspired by his event please consider making a donation to support our work.
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