Another year in prison for the child victims of the immigration system

Fears for wellbeing of young Kurdish family denied leave to remain and forced to await appeal in former jail
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The Independent Online

Four children and their mother who were locked up in a former prison almost a year ago while awaiting the outcome of an appeal against deportation from Britain are today facing another year in detention.

Yurdugal Ay, 34, daughters Beriwan, 14, Newroz, 13, Medya, eight, and son Dilovan, 12, have already been held longer than any other family of immigration detainees in Britain.

But despite concerns for their mental state, they look set to stay behind razor wire for some time yet.

Last month, The Independent on Sunday highlighted the plight of the Ay family and that of hundreds of other asylum-seeker children who come to Britain with their families to flee persecution and then find themselves locked up in detention centres.

For the last 11 months, the Ay family has been imprisoned in the Immigration Service's Dungavel detention centre in Strathaven, Lanarkshire, after being forcibly removed from their home in Kent to await deportation.

Last week, appeal judges rejected arguments by the children's mother that their mental health was suffering and that their human rights would be breached if they were made to leave the country and go back to Turkey.

The Kurdish family had been living in Germany but came to Britain with the children's father Salih in 1999after German authorities turned down their asylum claim and threatened to deport them to Turkey, where the family say they would be persecuted.

For three years the Ays lived in Kent, making friends and integrating into the community. But Mr Ay was then deported back to Germany and on to Turkey, and has not been heard from since.

The rest of the family - which the Home Office describes as serial absconders - were placed in detention at Dungavel to await the outcome of a succession of appeals against deportation.

With the last of their appeals now rejected, the family has applied to the House of Lords for leave to have the decision overturned, but realises that it will possibly mean another wait of up to a year for the result.

"My mother is in a terrible position," said Beriwan.

"She has to choose between having us sent back to Germany, and ultimately to Turkey - a country none of her children were born in or have even visited - or to wait up to another 12 months for a decision from the Lords.

"She can see how sad we all are and how the strain of being locked up with little hope is affecting us all, but what can she do? My father was sent back a year ago and we haven't heard from him since. She doesn't want anything to happen to her children."

On Friday, a coalition of senior clergy - including two bishops - union bosses and community leaders penned an open letter to David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, calling for the immediate release of the family and for them to be granted residency in Britain as reparation for their time in detention.

"Despite medical reports that they have suffered greatly and are experiencing severe emotional health and mental health problems, the Home Office has not acknowledged the damage done by their long-term detention," the letter read.

"The family are essentially victims of a system which appears to be overwhelmed."

The letter denounced the inhumanity of detaining children for 11 months behind barbed-wire fences with "no opportunity of leaving what is a prison regime".

However, government lawyers have argued that allowing them to stay could have an "appalling effect" on UK immigration control.

The immigration minister, Beverley Hughes, said: "There is no case for giving this family residency in Britain."

But she added: "I am concerned about these children. They are completely blameless in all this, but they are being used to drag out this case even longer.

"The fact they have been in detention there for so long is wholly down to what the parents have been doing. They are in custody because their mother refuses to go back to Germany voluntarily.

"Detention is not used in this way for any other family - it is only because the mother has been dragging this out in a way which is wholly disadvantageous to the children."

But in the single room in which the family has lived for a year, Beriwan Ay is tearful at the thought of what the future holds. "I don't know how long we can go on like this. It could take months for the Lords to decide, and all we can do is wait," she said.

"We have all suffered so much already. My brother and sisters have suffered a lot in here, their mental health has suffered.

"My sister Newroz doesn't talk or eat and every day gets thinner. Her hair is falling out.

"The family unit should be closed down because children suffer here. It's not a good place.

"Children need freedom. They haven't done anything and don't understand why they are in here."