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Spare a Thought for Refugee Women and Children in Detention

29/03/2016 11:28 | Updated 29 March 2016

Research about refugee women and children in detention

In recognition of the use of immigration-related detention the Global Detention Project provides a source of accurate information about their use and other immigration control regimes. Immigration detention centres are within every region of the world, however their prevalence is mainly in the United States with 884 and Europe (548). A report published in 2015 by the Global Detention Project explained that it is impossible to have accurate knowledge of the numbers of migrants and asylum seekers being held in detention around the world. This article will highlight recent research about refugee women and children in detention.

Concerns about the detention of children have become an international issue. International human rights legislation provides that child migrants should not be detained for immigration-related reasons. Detailed information about un-accompanied children is not available; however, it is known that within some countries children are routinely being detained. For example, in November, 2015 more than 100 countries criticised Australia for detaining women and children within offshore facilities (Millar, 2015). Following international pressure, the government in Australia pledged to change their domestic legislation in order to remove children from some detention centres (Anderson, 2015). A recent review of literature from studies around the world has found that detention for children leaves them depressed, sleep difficulties and developmental problems (Bosworth, 2016). Internationally immigration detention is an opaque area of public administration and it is claimed that a lack of knowledge about immigration centres means there is a tendency for speculative or ill-informed journalism (Shaw, 2016).

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The detention of children, even for short periods is understood to be harmful. The United States has the largest number of immigration centres and some of these detain families. Despite the expiry of a license of Berks County facility because it holds asylum-seeking families, evidence has been obtained by a campaigning group called Human Rights First. This evidence is seven complaints by mothers who are concerned for the welfare of their children. These letters explain problems with healthcare, children suffering mental health issues and problems with getting help. #ShutDownBerks is the latest campaign to stop this detention centre operating illegally and violating not only human rights but also domestic civil law.

Concerns about the welfare of women and children in immigration detention centres are shared by campaigners around the world. In the United Kingdom a recent campaign called #setherfree is organised by an organisation called Women for Refugee Women. This does not only highlight that women are being detained indefinitely without their friends or family but they are also pregnant.

In January 2016, the results of a review were published which aimed to identify the welfare in detention of vulnerable persons (Stephen Shaw, 2016). Within this review, Professor Mary Bosworth from Oxford University conducted a literature review. This highlighted the lack of research in the United Kingdom about the psychological and psychiatric impacts of this form of detention. The review recommended the closure of a family detention centre in England called the Cedars. This review concluded that smaller, more strategically focused immigration centres would be more protective of the welfare of vulnerable people and deliver better value for the taxpayer (Shaw, 2016).

The campaign in the UK about pregnant women in detention, the plight of a five month old girl who was kept in a leaky tent surrounded by rats on Nauru in Australia and the campaigns about the abuses of families detained in Berks County detention centre highlight this humanitarian disaster. The work of non-governmental organisations such as the Global Detention Project are raising issues within the United Nations and internationally. There has been very little academic research and for some, media reports are dismissed. In April 2015, the government of Greece said that people were being held in horrendous conditions and their continued incarceration was unaffordable. Greece faced a fine from the European Union about the conditions of their detention centres and following a visit by an official from the United Nations, there are moves to release the migrants in these centres. The unknown United Nations official explained that "there has to be facilities of a non-prison type character and it is clear that to create all this will require a kind of redirection of the government's energies". This is clearly needed within all countries around the world, especially within the most developed countries where there are many examples of acts against humanity for refugee women and children in detention. In the report about the release of refugees from immigration centres in Greece, a detainee said, "this was like prison, this was not a centre, at centres you can go outside, you can play ball, this was like a prison (Ahmet, 2015).

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