Human rights activist Pinar Aksu reports back from recent conferences on the issue of child detention. With 30,000 people still detained in UK ‘immigration removal centres’, what resources are available to fight back?
Let’s start with the facts: detention of child migrants is ongoing around the world. Children fleeing war, persecution are being detained for seeking a better life. They’re being held behind metal bars in prison-like conditions, not knowing what happen or whether they’ll be safe in future.
Here’s a little background to what is happening at present. On September 19 last year, the United Nations General Assembly held the high-level Summit for Refugees and Migrants, where it adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. This declaration expresses the political will of world leaders to share responsibility on a global scale with regards to refugees and migrants. It contains a number of important commitments to children.
The declaration also calls for negotiations to lead to the adoption of two agreements in 2018: the Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. The EU and UN are to draft a new document that will serve as a foundation for ending immigration detention of children globally. During this process, international organisations, civil society, member state authorities, EU institutions, academia, people of experience and other experts have been involved.
This year, I have been invited to several conferences regarding immigration detention of children globally. Young voices, and people who have experienced detention in some form, have been included in these discussions and conferences. Along the way, these experiences have been considered as new documents are drafted to end detention of children full stop.
The conferences I’ve been involved in include: the Global Conference on Children on the Move; the Council of Europe’s parliamentary campaign to end immigration detention of children; and the 11th European Forum on the rights of the child, which focused on alternatives to detention.
Each conference had panellists who had directly experienced detention either recently or during their childhood. It also brought together practitioners and non-government organisations who have worked in this area. The forum was organised by the European Commission in cooperation with international organisations, EU institutions and others. What I saw at these conferences was hope. Good people came together to create a platform where experiences of expertise were shared and solutions were considered.
But it was still scary to hear the ongoing conditions of child detention across the globe and to hear that children’s liberties are being taken away without a cause. You can’t just call these happenings refugee crises. These are humanitarian crises. Human beings are running away from bombs, war, climate change and many other reasons for the sake of hope and a better future.
During these journeys, there are children losing parents and relatives who must continue alone. Instead of being welcomed to a safe environment and community, many European nations respond by detaining them. In some countries, there’s no time limit for these detentions, and the conditions in many are horrific. When in detention, children experience discrimination, lack of access to justice, lack of child-friendly justice safeguards and mechanisms and an absence of individual assessments. They often suffer deteriorating mental health, risk of violence and sexual, physical or emotional abuse.
In the UK, ending detention of children was promised in 2010. This was great news and has led to numbers dropping, but the government continues to allow the detention of some 30,000 people – including asylum seekers, pregnant women and children – in privatised “immigration removal centres”.
There are more than 12 such centres across the UK managed by private companies such as SERCO and G4S. These are the same private companies who run prison premises. Life isn’t made easy for asylum seekers in the UK. Imagine being a child, away from your local community, not knowing the language, and having lost family, being locked away in a new country for no reason.
Much more needs to be done. We need to understand and recognise that detention is never the solution. The International Detention Coalition, who I have been involved with, have identified alternatives to detention and propose community-based solutions.
It’s important to know and understand why people move, to understand root causes and how we can help each other as a local community. We are all citizens of the same planet and it belongs to all of us. As people campaigning for equality and socialism, it’s imperative we all get involved in campaigning groups to shut down detention centres, whether in Scotland or the UK as a whole. We must all work together to pressure governing bodies who create and provide platform for detention.
As individuals we can help people through donations and volunteering. In the meantime, there are some organisations, NGO’s, community groups who work with people during their journey which you can check out: