Amanda Shah: Cruelty inflicted on children

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This Government must recognise that in many cases of families who have been in the UK for long periods, removal is not appropriate or fair.

Every year, without judicial scrutiny, the Government locks up 2,000 children in the UK "for the purposes of immigration control". Yet these children the sons and daughters of asylum-seekers and immigrants have committed no crime. Many were born in this country and know no other home. Asked where they are from, they will say: "London", "Swansea" or "Doncaster".

According to government policy, "Every Child Matters", except, that is, children the Government wants to remove from this country. They can be incarcerated indefinitely.

Each detention costs the taxpayer hundreds of pounds a week. This is a scandalous waste of money and damages young lives. The children literally begin to waste away. Many suffer weight loss, developmental difficulties and regressive bedwetting or soiling. A study we conducted in 2005 with Mdecins Sans Frontires a humanitarian organisation more used to working in war zones concluded that detention damages the mental and physical health of children and their parents.

Yet there is no evidence to suggest that children or their families abscond if left in the community. Children's education, health needs and friendships mean they are rooted in the places where they live. But the Government uses these families as soft targets to show middle England that it is "tough on immigration".

Over the past 12 months, the cruelty inflicted on many families has become increasingly incomprehensible. Children can be taken into the care of social services while their parents are detained to prevent them absconding. Or the Government may order the removal of a child with one parent from the UK, while the other parent remains here in detention. Confused? You can see how utterly bewildering it must be for the families involved.

With a new year upon us, surely this is one resolution the Home Secretary must make and keep: "In 2008, I will stop detaining children."

Amanda Shah is assistant director of Bail for Immigration Detainees

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