ECDN record of campaign against detention of children

End Child Detention  Now press campaign:

Through the Summer of 2009 six friends helped a small family who had been split up and imprisoned simply because they had exercised their legal right to claim asylum in this country.

One family’s story
The father was separated from his wife and toddler for nine months. The two year old child was left parentless for 4 days. This traumatised family was reunited by uniformed guards in a car-park, then locked up in Yarl’s Wood for 26 days.

The 31st solicitor we called agreed to represent them. Eventually they were released and permitted leave to remain here. There had never been any reason to detain them.

We know this family. We felt furious and ashamed about what our government did to them. So we launched what we hoped would be the shortest campaign in British political history. We called it End Child Detention Now. This page is about our press campaign, led by Clare Sambrook. You can read more about the full campaign here.

Since October 2009 we have worked to enhance the quality, depth and quantity of press coverage about the UK government’s policy of locking up asylum-seeker families who are at no risk of absconding in places — such as Yarl’s Wood detention centre — that are known to harm their mental health.

Investigating government lies
Clare Sambrook has researched and written investigative stories and comment articles — published in Open Democracy, Private Eye and — exposing Home Office efforts to bury medical evidence of harm and illuminating the government’s cosy relationship with the security companies who run the detention centres for profit.

Running a sort of free press-office, Clare has researched and given away material to other journalists, offered advance briefings and circulated material — such as the buried report on failure to investigate a case of child sex abuse at Yarl’s Wood — that might otherwise have been kept out of the media.

We have provided investigative research, academic research (by Alexa Kellow and Dr Simon Parker), the fruits of Freedom of Information requests (by Elena Egawhary) and other intelligence to media including C4 Dispatches (through Dartmouth Films), and to Michael Morpurgo for his BBC Daily Politics appearance.

Helping detainees into print
We helped child detainee Wells Botomani turn his account of incarceration at Yarl’s Wood into a Guardian Society cover story and a spread in The Baptist Times, enabled families detained at Yarl’s Wood to get their letter to Nick Clegg published in the Observer, and secured coverage in Community Care for young refugees petitioning Downing Street (left).

We have helped eminent experts get their comment articles into print, and advised other groups, including Refugee & Migrant Justice, the Royal Medical Colleges and SOAS Detainee Support, on media strategy.

The End Child Detention Now team — a group of friends working unpaid — have written our own comment articles across the national and professional press — Guardian, Independent, Community Care, Nursery World, Big Issue in the North.

Bishops, novelists and Paddington Bear
Our series of public letters signed by prominent Bishops, novelists, children’s writers and actors, published in the Guardian, Observer and Daily Telegraph, opened up fruitful relationships with, among others, children’s writers Beverley Naidoo, Michael Morpurgo and Michael Bond who kindly forwarded a comment from Paddington Bear that alone earned a whole page in the Independent.

We’ve used Facebook and Twitter (Judith Townend leads our social media campaign) to bring new readers to our published material, and we’ve encouraged social action sites and faith media to cross-post, some of our stories running simultaneously on Open Democracy, Counterfire, Manchester Mule, Independent Catholic News and Quaker Asylum & Refugee Network.

We’ve run the press campaign alongside our series of public vigils and demonstrations coordinated by Esmé Madill.

Lobbying Members of Parliament
Mary McCormack led our effort to lobby every MP to sign Chris Mullin MP’s early day motion calling upon the government to end the practice of holding children in immigration detention centres. In all 121 MPs supported the Motion, thanks partly to Nick Clegg’s agreeing to ask all Lib Dem MPs to sign.

In seven months nearly 5000 people signed the End Child Detention Now national on-line petition, 700 of them in a few days after Guardian Society ran Beverley Naidoo’s startling story about her workshop with the children inside Yarl’s Wood.

This work is dedicated to all the people who have suffered the injustices of the UK asylum system, with thanks to all the journalists who have run our material.