The BBC's Mark Easton has written a scorching blog-post about the Yarl's Wood detention centre, in which unsuccessful migrants to the UK are detained, including families with young children. Details about Yarl's Wood have come to light after England's Children's Commissioner, Sir Al Aynsley-Green produced a report on the treatment of children there. Many of these children have spent their entire lives in the UK.
Border and Immigration Minister Phil Woolas justifies the inhumane treatment of children by arguing that once their parents have been sent to the substandard, inhumane Yarl's Wood, it would be even more inhumane to separate them from their children.
Another alternative might be to treat all deportees in a humane fashion.
Predictably, the BBC's comment board is filled with anti-immigration bigots who argue that the children should blame their parents for turning them into refugees who sought asylum in the UK.
My father was a refugee, born in a camp in Azerbaijan, to Red Army deserters who used stolen papers to transit Europe after WWII and secure transport on a Displaced Persons boat from Hamburg to Halifax. When I hear people talk blithely about how their society owes nothing to refugees, I try to imagine how they'd feel if they and their children found themselves living in a war-torn disaster-area, a climate-ravaged desolation, the midst of an ethnic cleansing. I wonder if they and their families were the beneficiaries of foreign aid during and after WWII. I wonder if they'd sit idly by and let their children die of malnutrition, be kidnapped and forced into child soldiery, or face mutilation from land-mines because the alternative required telling a lie to the British immigration authorities.
I try not to imagine the people who make that sort of remark stuck in a place like Yarl's Wood, denied their fundamental human rights, their children denied medical care and education — because I don't think anyone should suffer that way.
Not even xenophobic bigots.
What sort of country sends a dozen uniformed officers to haul innocent sleeping children out of their beds; gives them just a few minutes to pack what belongings they can grab; pushes them into stinking caged vans; drives them for hours while refusing them the chance to go to the lavatory so that they wet themselves and locks them up sometimes for weeks or months without the prospect of release and without adequate health services?…
One boy of 11 told the children's commissioner:
"There was this woman, just shouting, shouting at my sister to get up. She was in bed asleep and she's only five so she was crying and the woman just kept shouting at her. She didn't have to do that. The search was bad. Why did they have to search my sister? She is only five, what is she going to have? They touch you all over and they're rough. It's rude."
The report explains how some children described officers as taking pleasure in the family's distress, including telling them that they were "going back to their own country" and laughing and making fun of them when they showed signs of distress or anxiety.
One child said that an officer had called his mother "stupid" and laughed at her crying and distress, while others were told that it was "tough" if they didn't like the officer's attitude…
What's more, many of the children complained about the lack of "comfort breaks" on the long journeys to detention. This had led to "accidents" in some cases. A chance to go to the lavatory was apparently denied "even when the vans stopped for petrol and, on at least two or three occasions, access to a toilet was denied throughout the whole journey despite urgent requests to stop…"