LEADERS of Christian and Jewish Faiths called upon the Government to stop detaining the children of asylum seekers in letters to the national press last week.

The Most Rev Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales, The Rt Rev John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds and Susan Seymour, Clerk, Meeting for Sufferings, The Religious Society of Friends are among prominent Christians who signed a letter to the Daily Telegraph calling for ‘an immediate end to the unnecessary and inhumane practice of imprisoning children, babies and young people in immigration removal centres.’

The letter noted, ‘that the Children’s Commissioner, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Children’s Society and many other bodies concerned with the wellbeing of children all support an end to child detention because of the appalling effects on children. These include insomnia, bed-wetting, weight loss, speech regression, depression and self-harm.’

Dr Edie Friedman, Director of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality, along with Hannah Weisfeld, Chair of Jewish Social Action Forum and Rabbi Alexandra Wright among other senior rabbis, wrote in a letter to the Guardian: ‘How many more appalling medical reports about the psychological damage to children in detention must we read before the Border Agency puts an end to this shameful and inhumane practice?’

They went on: ‘Which one of us would not be horrified if it was our child who had seen her mother and father arrested at dawn by police, been separated from both parents for many hours, taken in a car by uniformed men to a building surrounded by barbed wire, and locked up? And that’s without even considering what traumas this child may have already experienced before coming to the UK.’

The letters followed a fresh report on Yarl’s Wood from outgoing children’s commissioner Sir Al Aynsley Green, who has visited the Serco-run detention centre three times in the past four years because of his ‘profound concern’ about the wellbeing of detainees.

Aynsley Green, a consultant paediatrician who has persistently called for the Government to stop detaining children, reported that children had told him about their experience of arrest and detention:

“It’s not nice going to the toilet in front of an officer.”
“I don’t like people seeing me when I’m getting dressed.”
“I didn’t think it was real, not real life.”
“I had 16 fish in a tank and everything, what’s happened to them?”
“They broke our house.”

The faith leaders’ calls add to rising pressure on the Government to abandon the detention policy.

Chris Mullin MP’s parliamentary motion calling for the end of child detention has attracted 118 MPs’ signatures.

Hundreds of individual doctors have signed the medical profession’s on-line petition at

All six children’s laureates, Anthony Browne, Michael Rosen, Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Morpurgo, Anne Fine and Quentin Blake are among more than 100 writers and illustrators who have condemned the detention policy.

And a petition initiated by citizens’ campaign group End Child Detention Now has drawn more than 4000 names.

Dr Frank Arnold, clinical director of Medical Justice and an expert in torture scars has said: ‘The process and the justifications for detention have become ever more illogical and baroque. For the first time, we are beginning to see a truly powerful groundswell against it.’

Notes to editors

The UK Border Agency arrests and detains some 2000 asylum-seeking children every year, although there is no evidence that families with young children abscond.

Dave Wood, UKBA Director of Criminality and Detention, told a Parliamentary Committee in September 2009:  ‘Whilst issues are raised about absconding, that is not our biggest issue. It does happen but it is not terribly easy for a family unit to abscond.’
Source: Hansard

The Lorek report
NHS paediatricians and psychologists, Lorek et al, reported in the international peer-reviewed journal, Child Abuse & Neglect, (October 2009) that children locked up at Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre were ‘clearly vulnerable, marginalized, and at risk of mental and physical harm as a result of state sanctioned neglect.’
The doctors recorded children’s ‘sexualised behaviour’, older children’s tendency to wet their beds and soil their pants, the ‘increased fear due to being suddenly placed in a facility resembling a prison’, the ‘abrupt loss of home, school, friends and all that was familiar to them.’

Recent Faith Leader Statements

17 January 2010 Bishop Patrick Lynch, Chair of the Office of Migration and Refugee Policy of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales

1 February 2010 Bishop of Ripon & Leeds representing the Urban Bishop’s Panel of the Church of England: statement in support of the End Child Detention Now campaign.

END CHILD DETENTION NOW coordinated the Church leaders’ Daily Telegraph letter and the authors’ & actors’ protests.


Contact Esmé Madill
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Tuesday 23 February 2010