Describing CITIZENS for Sanctuary as "one of the most effective lobbying organisations ever", the immigration minister, Damian Green, last night pledged that there would be no more children of families seeking sanctuary in immigration centres by the end of the summer, and certainly by Christmas. He said that "weeks, rather than months" after a government review of detention ends on 1 June "we will be able to announce the solution and then we will have got to the point where children are not detained for immigration purposes in the UK".
Speaking at Westminster Abbey at an event organised by CITIZENS for Sanctuary, he said it was 'not just a duty but a pleasure' to end the practice. The event was organized to celebrate the successes of CITIZENS for Sanctuary over the past year and half and to pay tribute to the leaders and partners who have worked together over the past 6 months to bring about an end to detaining children and families for Immigration Reasons. Around 80 leaders, partners and funders gathered at Westminster Abbey to celebrate and to meet other leaders from around the country. A number of MPs who had signed the pledge were also present as well as Sharon Flannery, Director for London and South East region for UKBA. Leaders had gathered to hear when the new coalition government would stop detaining children and families.
Minister Damian Green stated,
This will be a better country when we don't detain children for immigration purposes.There is no getting away from the fact that if you are a civilised decent human being the sight of young children locked up behind bars should make you feel profoundly uneasy.
Referring to widespread press coverage at Christmas last year over the refusal by Yarl's Wood to allow CITIZENS for Sanctuary leaders to give Christmas presents to the children locked inside, Neil Jameson, CITIZENS UK executive director), asked Mr Green if he could confirm there would be no children there by next Christmas. "There should be no need for anyone to dress up as Father Christmas this Christmas at Yarl's Wood this year," the minister joked. "If anyone has to, I will."
Mr Green also congratulated CITIZENS for Sanctuary campaigners for securing a more humane reception centre at the immigration processing centre at Lunar House in Croydon. "I'm pleased to say that when I went there last week it now looks like an entry point for human beings rather than cattle. So that's one significant thing you chalked up even before the issue of children in detention," he told the gathering at Westminster Abbey.
He said it was important to separate the issue of sanctuary from that of immigration, to prevent extremist parties claiming that they represent the mass of British people. He said the Government were also carrying out,
a general review of the asylum system ... to ensure that decisions are right first time, because much of the misery in the current system, as many people here will know, is caused by the sheer length of time it takes to come to a decision. It's not good for the individual asylum seeker, but it's also not good for the taxpayer, and it's not good for the general confidence in the system.
He praised CITIZENS for Sanctuary for representing what he called a "sensible and humane" view of asylum policy.
The mass of the British people are perfectly sensible and humane on this subject and their views need representing. CITIZENS for Sanctuary reflects many of those views and as I said at the start, represents them very, very successfully. I think you're a tremendously successful lobbying group and you should all congratulate yourselves and pat yourselves on the back this evening.
Jeff Sango, leader with CITIZENS for Sanctuary saidThe build up of the campaign against child detention by CITIZENS for Sanctuary, the pre-election debates at the CITIZENS UK party leaders accountability assembly on 3rd May 2010 and an immediate action to stop child detention by the new coalition government, through the personal commitment by Minister Damien Green, shows how the power of organising communities by CITIZENS UK can bring about effective policy changes in government. As a Zimbabwean community leader, I am very excited and encouraged by Minister Damien Green's immediate response and a call to action by the new government.