Breastfeeding mothers detained away from babies
Friday August 18, 2006
Breastfeeding mothers are being separated from their babies for several days in the government's drive to deport failed asylum seekers, Guardian Unlimited can reveal today.
Immigration officials have been accused of flouting several UN conventions by detaining mothers away from pre-weaned infants in at least two cases this spring.
In March this year a Vietnamese mother was seized from her
The woman, known only as Mrs N, was due to be sent back to
She was reunited with the baby after a last-minute reprieve allowing her to stay in the
Following complaints about the case the immigration minister, Liam Byrne, suggested it was an isolated incident. He said the correct procedures on the treatment of families had not been properly followed.
But it has now emerged that in April a second breastfeeding mother was also detained in Yarl's Wood without her child. This case involves Mrs P, a Turkish asylum seeker, who is married to a fellow Turk who has been granted refugee status.
She was taken to the detention centre after a routine weekly visit to sign on at an immigration centre in central
Doctors had advised Mrs P to continue breastfeeding the child because he had a kidney condition.
During interviews at the centre, immigration officials had remarked on the dampness of her clothing from her leaking breasts. She pointed out that her baby would not take formula milk from a bottle.
But she was told that she had no legal right to stay in the
In a statement to her lawyer, Mrs P said: "I have had terrible experiences in
In both cases the change of heart from the authorities came after the intervention of the veteran human rights campaigner and Liberal Democrat peer Lord Avebury.
He said: "It's reasonable to assume that these are not the only cases. It is shocking that the Home Office does not have a policy on the detention of breastfeeding mothers and the separation from their children. They ought to have one that absolutely forbids it."
In a letter to Lord Avebury about Mrs N's treatment, Mr Byrne said a review of the case had revealed that officials had mistakenly ignored Home Office procedure.
He said: "It is clear that the case was not satisfactorily handled. Prechecks had failed to reveal that Mrs N was part of a family unit. The staff involved in Mrs N's case have been reminded on the guidance in place about making decisions involving the separation of a family."
Last month Lord Avebury wrote to Mr Byrne seeking an explanation for Mrs P's treatment. He has also asked for the Home Office to look into how many similar cases there have been. He has yet to receive a reply.
Annette Elder, the solicitor for both women, pointed out that if the cases had involved criminal proceedings proper childcare arrangements would have been made before the children were separated from their mothers.
Patti Rundall, the policy director of the charity Baby Milk Action, said both cases "fly in the face of a number of UN resolutions and conventions".
She cited the Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding, the Innocenti Declaration on the Protection, Promotion and Support of Breastfeeding, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which all stress the importance of breastfeeding to the nutrition and welfare of children.
Ms Rundall added: "There seems to have been no regard for or understanding of the needs and rights of the child or mother."