Source: The Guardian
By Clare Sambrook
The government is rebutting findings of a report about the distress suffered by children being held in Yarl's Wood
Uniformed men break down your door, burst in, shout at your children: "Get up! Get up!" You may pack a few belongings. Your boy needs a wee. The woman in uniform watches over him in case of … what? Your children are in danger and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, you can do to protect them.
Sir Al Aynsley-Green's new report on children banged up at Yarl's Wood has survived government attempts to neuter it – but only just. Having badgered the children's commissioner into stressing the positive, the Home Office yesterday issued a "response to criticism" including direct statements, "not to be attributed as direct statements", that misrepresent the report in order to undermine public confidence in its accuracy.
The Home Office rebuttal asks itself: "Is it true that families where the parents are HIV+ can never be removed and therefore should never be detained?"
And answers: Aynsley-Green "is incorrect. HIV is not a bar to removal".
He didn't say it was. He said it should be.
The Home Office adds: "We do not accept any of the allegations of mistreatment of children by our staff nor do we accept that the care we provide is in any way sub-standard."
Asylum-seeking families have for years suffered government rough handling. Late last year, the strongest peer-reviewed medical evidence of the damage detention does to children was rubbished by UK Border Agency director of criminality and detention Dave Wood. He told the home affairs select committee that the doctors had failed to share their findings with the agency and its commercial partner, Serco. Not true. Never mind. Not a word of the doctors' work found its way into the MPs' report on the detention policy.
Having spotted Wood's weasel memo, I obtained Home Office documents that categorically refuted him, and handed them to the committee. A journalist elicited Home Office comment. No matter. Minister Meg Hillier repeated the misinformation to the House, adding a fresh dodgy line of her own.
"There are many pressures on children, and it is not clear that those pressures and problems arise merely from detention," she said. On the contrary, the doctors said children experienced, "a sudden deterioration in mental health due to the experience of detention rather than any pre-existing problems".
Among Aynsley-Green's interviewees, one parent said her 10-year-old daughter had her head banged against the wall by an officer and, in her distress, the child drank shower gel. Not true, says the government.
Who do we believe? Ministers? Or the children who said about being arrested at dawn: "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 government wants us to believe that locking up families for no good reason (there is no evidence families might abscond) is all right now because Yarl's Wood has had a lick of paint, and the child-catcher's van is no longer caged. Aynsley-Green reports, "a coincident increase in the use of separate vehicles to transport children and parents".
When challenged about prolonged periods of detention – weeks and sometimes months – the government blames parents for stringing it out with vexatious legal challenges. Yet, among those detainees lucky enough to get legal representation, many end up obtaining the right to remain.
The government said families are detained because they refuse to leave. But Aynsley-Green found – and lawyers aplenty can confirm – that families reported being arrested at the same time as being handed a letter telling them that their appeal had been dismissed.
Amid the government's lies and distortions it can be hard to keep a grip on the truth.
Here are some facts – random but true.
Serco nurses filling in medical forms routinely describe children's emotional state as "jolly" and "happy"; the detention centre school is called "Hummingbird House".
Many children are sent unvaccinated to areas where TB is prevalent and measles and malaria endemic. More than a year after Aynsley-Green suggested it, the provision of bed nets was "still under consideration".
About one Yarl's Wood child whose mother had been raped in Africa and was hepatitis B positive, Serco nurses wrote under family history, "nil of note".
A child once had 16 fish that he fed and watched and cared about.
Serco owes its first duty to its shareholders and pays chief executive Christopher Hyman £3,233 every day.
• There is an online petition to end child immigration detention, and also a petition for doctors to sign.