Matthew Norman: Locking up children shames us

The lasting damage caused at Yarl's Wood is apparently not our problem

Share
Related Topics

As the decade dwindles to its end and we await the avalanche of reviews, could there be a more heartrending snapshot of Noughties Britain than Father Christmas being turned away by guards at an immigration centre's gates?

Were it fictional, the neo-Dickensian tale of how the Rev James Rosental, clad in white beard and lugging his sack of presents for its child inmates, was denied entry to the infamous Yarl's Wood would be as sickeningly mawkish as the death of Little Nell.

The reality is more profoundly nauseating, this vignette capturing enough that is repulsive and depraved about this country to belong in a time capsule, buried in the naïve hope that a century from now our descendants will unearth it and shake their heads in disbelief that it could have happened at all.

Those guards, for instance, are employees of a private company, Serco, which is thriving regardless of fierce, sustained criticism of its running of Yarl's Wood. Only yesterday, our business pages advised that the share is a buy, such is the urge of Pontius Pilate government to wash its hands and outsource its duties to corporate entities whose sole concern is the share price.

That the police arrived to investigate the vicar's mild protests tells another familiar story in an age when heckling ministers and photographing landmarks are offences under under terrorism legislation. Later that day he was again turned away, his pre-arranged visit cancelled on the grounds that his conduct had given "cause for concern". A group of dignitaries was allowed in a while ago, it should be said, but only to inspect what the Home Office deemed suitably sanitised – a literal whitewash, assuming the new schooling area was freshly painted for the visit. Living quarters and general conditions were closed to them, however, and such secrecy covers this place that we're not even told how many children pass through it each year, let alone how they are treated. But the secrecy and the whitewash, twin guardians of Noughties governmental misdemeanour, allow us to make an educated guess.

What we know is that the children of Yarl's Wood tend to arrive there after being arrested with their parents in dawn raids. Many of us will remember momentarily semi-waking in the middle of the night at the tread of a Santa-impersonating parent delivering the stocking to the end of the bed. Here is an indecently perfect perversion of that Christmas vista. Imagine being five years old and waking in the dark to the sound of immigration officers breaking down the door, and being aggressively bundled into the back of a van.

In 2007, a family from Malawi were taken to Yarl's Wood in that manner, the mother refused time to collect life-sustaining epilepsy medication. She and her husband were HIV positive, while their eight-year-old son was expected to develop the illness too. Only the intervention of an Anglican bishop and the resultant media interest prevented him being sent back to Africa to die alone once his parents had predeceased him.

We have heard much from Mr Tony Blair and his successor about their commitment to eradicating African poverty. Not long ago, Gordon Brown congratulated himself on saving 100,000 African children from fatal malaria. Faced with the estimated 1,000 who annually pass through Yarl's Wood, he cares only about burying them from public attention, as if they were radioactive waste, and hurriedly returning them to the poverty, persecution and malarial hell they fled in the misguided belief that Britain was a civilised nation.

Given the evidence that illegal immigrants and failed asylum-seekers with children seldom abscond, and could be tagged at vastly less expense, what specifically concerns him is yet another Noughties curse ... New Labour's desperation to assuage the vicious nasteries of the right-wing press and those who pepper the phone-ins with "They're illegal immigrants so it's not our problem". There could be no more clinically unchristian a sentiment than this distillation of official government policy. If these children will suffer lasting damage, as all the relevant medical and psychiatric experts insist they will, that apparently is not our problem.

That both PMs who have presided over these internment camps style themselves as devoted followers of Christ's teachings is an irony more than adequately observed in the past, but this point cannot be repeated often or crudely enough: the arrest and detention of children, with all its chilling historical echoes, is an abomination. This is one of those rare moral issues that does not bear debate. There is no "one the one hand ...". It is simply wrong. It would be just as simply wrong if their parents were serial killers rather than desperate, vulnerable people whose only offence has been to take Norman Tebbit's on-yer-bike rallying cry to economic migrants to its extreme.

Nick Clegg, leading the political resistance to repugnant policy yet again while David Cameron tactically chooses silence, writes to Gordon Brown urging him to, "stop the scandal of hundreds of very young children, including toddlers, spending this Christmas locked up behind bars". Mr Brown will do no such thing. Even if Joanna Lumley took up the cause, it would take weeks of bad headlines to compel that neurotic ostrich to raise his head from the sands.

Perhaps the alleged Children's Secretary Ed Balls could promise to abolish this obscenity by next Christmas. No one is more ostentatiously moved by the abuse of the young, after all, than Mr Balls. Only last month he apologised for the maltreatment of children in a foreign land. "I think it is important that we say... this is something that we look back on in shame," he said to those forcibly dispatched to Australia and other former colonies as children. "It is right when we look back and see things which we now know were morally wrong, that we are willing to say sorry... It would never happen today."

Don't look back in anger, Mr Balls. Look sideways in self-disgust. The systematic, state mistreatment of children is happening today, and it's happening under your aegis. Say sorry now, or never say sorry at all. Just make it stop.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker