The news that the contract for welfare support for asylum seeking families with children, before being removed to the country they came from, has been granted to G4S has shocked Liberal Democrats and charities in the asylum field. The news was sneaked out just before the half term recess when Ministers could not be questioned, but Lib Dems in Parliament are getting questions ready for the return !
LD4SOS had been in correspondence with the Home Office last year, putting 15 key points to them that had to be taken into account in any new contract. We are not at all convinced they will be, with G4S’s record and background.
Nick Clegg has said “Charities have been clear that moving families waiting to be deported to Tinsley House is not in the best interests of the children. The truth is, the prison-style environment is not physically safe for children and could impact on their emotional wellbeing. That is exactly why the Liberal Democrats, whilst in coalition, insisted on the establishment of Cedars as suitable accommodation in the first place.”
LD4SOS Council member, Margaret Lally, has written this letter to The Guardian, but it has not been published. You can read it here :
I was saddened but not surprised to read your article that the Home Office is expected to announce that it has asked G4S to take over the contract to provide welfare support to detained families facing deportation when Tinsley House opens its new unit for those families in May. Previously these families had been accommodated at Cedars with welfare support provided by Barnardos which has substantial experience of working with children. Cedars was closed last July – there was no discussion allowed of this decision which was announced on the last day of Parliament. Since then it has been difficult to find out get information on the new provision (the specification was confidential), the level and quality of support they will provide and, also, any assurance that for families taken to Tinsley House it really will be the last resort.
I was not surprised because the last six months have seen an inexorable rolling back of a number of commitments that the government has made to protect and look after vulnerable children and their families. Deporting families and children is not what I want to see but if it has to happen they should be kept in an environment which is suitable for them. Cedars was opened following pressure from the Liberal Democrats to end the detention of children. With the support of Barnados, it provided a child friendly and caring environment which was suitable for families with children at a very traumatic point in their lives. Children and families facing the stress of deportation are going to be looked after by G4S rather than an organisation whose core role and track record is in supporting vulnerable children. Cedars had not been operating to full capacity because the Family Returns Panel had been relatively successful in facilitating voluntary returns.
The change in contractor and location may seem to be relatively minor shifts but it is yet another step away from accepting that government has a particular responsibility to protect children because they cannot be expected to do so themselves, and that sometimes it is not possible for their parents to do so either. Only a couple of months ago the government agreed to accept the Dubs amendment to bring the most refugee vulnerable children into the UK – they are now stepping back from this agreement arguing that it might encourage adults to traffic other children. Since when was it right to allow children to suffer (and those children camping out in the cold in other European countries are suffering) in order to change the behaviour of adults not associated with them?
The UK can be proud of the funding it provides to refugees in the regions from where they have fled but it also needs to take on responsibility for ensuring those who reach the UK and treated with care and kindness right up to the point they may need to leave.