Misinformation breeds distortion
The litany of distorted knowledge of refugees and asylum seekers is evident on many Facebook postings. Mistrust and hate grow from mistruths projected by ministers, currently Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary gushes with distorted truths. Recently Suella Braverman said migrants who cross the channel from Calais to the UK are doing so ‘illegally’ and are ‘criminals’.
The Rwanda immigration plan was, in 2022, supported by a greater percentage than by those who oppose it. This is not surprising when Home Secretaries Priti Patel and now Suella Braverman, vilify those crossing the channel in small boats. Based partly on government rhetoric the right-wing media feed misinformation to their readers.
People were shocked, just a few years ago, by the image of Alan Kurdy, a toddler, dead, lying face down in the sand. L. Prøitz, wrote that the image, which spread widely on social media, changed disturbing aspects of the refugee crisis into something clear and understandable. The galvanized public response was emotional.
What about the children?
According to global figures published by UNHCR and reported by the Refugee Council:
“In 2020, worldwide, 21,000 children applied for asylum having arrived in the country of refuge alone, with no parent or guardian.”
The refugee council reported that in the year ending September 2022, the UK received 5,152 applications for asylum from unaccompanied children
Using force against children could be “necessary”.
Who are the unaccompanied children?
The Refugee Council provides these details in their facts on refugee children.
“Many of them come from Sudan, … children, in particular, are at risk. Sudan is the 29th highest nation in the world for child marriage where girls as young as ten years of age can be legally married.
“As well as Sudan, they come from countries including Iran, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Iraq, Albania, Ethiopia and Syria.
“Children are also regularly trafficked into the UK to be forced into domestic servitude, sexual exploitation and other forms of forced labour including cannabis cultivation.
Offshore detention: Australian model
Australia’s government is the role model that the British Government used to send asylum seekers and refugees to offshore detention.
According to ITVx The Home Office suggests that the Australian model had been successful in reducing illegal journeys and dismantling people smuggling networks. According to Australia’s Department of Home Affairs, as of July 2019, 4,183 people have been sent offshore since August 2012.
Australian offshore detention centres are in Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and the Republic of Nauru. There are many accounts of severe trauma to refugees reported. One much reported example being that a pre-teenage girl, who was suicidal, tried to set herself alight. BBC (6 October 2021) reported that 13 people detained by Australia in Papua New Guinea and Nauru have died from violence, medical inattention, and suicide. Also reported was that the Papua New Guinea detention centre will close.
Beth O’Connor is a psychiatrist, member of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists Asylum Seeker and Refugee Mental Health Network Committee. She was part of a team providing mental healthcare to asylum seekers and refugees detained by the Australian Government. In a comment, published by the British Medical Journal, Beth writes of how offshore detention harms people’s mental health:
“After witnessing first hand the impact of offshore detention on the asylum seekers and refugees I met on Nauru, I have grave concerns about the UK government’s planned policy to forcibly remove asylum seekers to Rwanda.”
Beth describes a group of children who developed a rare life-threatening psychiatric condition known as resignation syndrome:
“Ten children presented to us with symptoms of depression and social withdrawal, before progressing to refusing food and fluids, becoming bed bound, mute, and unresponsive. When children reach this life-threatening state, they require hospitalisation for supportive physical care, including nasogastric feeding, and psychiatric care. On Nauru, this care was not available. Parents had to watch their child deteriorate while the slow process for seeking a transfer to Australia for care went through the court system. The parents’ mental health often deteriorated in response to this distressing situation.”
Shidan Tosif, and colleagues published a report in 2023 on the health of children who experienced Australian immigration detention.
Tosif et al., examined the hospital records of children and families who experienced Australian immigration detention and were treated at the Royal Children’s Hospital Immigrant Health Service, Melbourne, Australia, from January 2012 –December 2022.
277 children had experienced locked detention, including 79 children in families detained on Nauru or Manus Island. From these records the authors found that 60% of children had a nutritional deficiency, and 75% had a concern relating to development, including 10% with autism spectrum disorder and 9% with intellectual disability. 62% of children had mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, and behavioural disturbances and 54% had parents with mental illness. Children and parents detained on Nauru had a significantly higher prevalence of all mental health concerns compared with those held in Australian detention centres.
62% of children had experienced a major traumatic event before their arrival or during their journey to Australia (e.g., physical assault, kidnapping, boat capsized, war-related physical trauma). Eighteen children (8%) had experienced the death of an immediate family member due to conflict in their country of origin or during their migration journey. The authors concluded that there is clinical evidence of adverse impacts detention on children’s physical and mental health and wellbeing.
Tosif and colleagues say:
“Policymakers must recognise the consequences of detention, and avoid detaining children and families.”
Rishi Sunak has argued:
“Children cannot be exempted from plans to detain people who cross the Channel in small boats to prevent the creation of a “pull factor”.
Clearly Rishi Sunak has not been advised of the severe detrimental effects of detention to children, or he doesn’t care.
UK lack of protection of children
Byline Times Wednesday 24 May 2023 reported the ongoing risks to children. Lauren Crosby Medicott reports the details of the missing children from the Brighton asylum hotel. Children were seen to have been picked up outside the hotel. Lauren says this highlights the Home Office’s failure to protect vulnerable young people who have made the dangerous journey to the UK for sanctuary.
Lawyers for the Home Secretary have disclosed to a family court that 66 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children remain missing from just one local authority – Brighton and Hove – after disappearing from a hotel.
The illegal migration bill
Worse is in the works. This illegal migration bill aims to change the law so that those who arrive in the UK by irregular means, such as boats, can be removed to a third country such as Rwanda. This bill was passed by 289 votes to 230. The bill is about to go to the House of Lords for debate.
Carolyne Willow, the director of Article 39 said: “If passed, the bill will empower the Home Secretary to accommodate even more children outside the care system, and will reintroduce the routine detention of children, which was ended nearly a decade ago after extensive evidence of children suffering serious physical, emotional and psychological harm.”