Separation of detained mothers from breastfed babies to stop
Wednesday October 25, 2006
Immigration officials are to be ordered to stop separating breastfeeding mothers from their babies in the drive to deport failed asylum seekers after the government was told that the practice flouts UN conventions.
In August, Guardian Unlimited revealed that in at least two cases earlier this year mothers had been detained in immigration and removal centres away from their pre-weaned children.
The cases involved Mrs N, a Vietnamese asylum seeker, and her six-month-old baby, and Mrs P, a Turkish asylum seeker, and her 15-month-old infant who she was still breastfeeding on medical advice.
Ministers were warned that the cases, which campaigners fear are not the only ones, "fly in the face of a number of UN resolutions and conventions".
The government has now said that it accepts the need for new guidance instructing immigration officials not to separate any young children from their mothers unless there are "compelling and exceptional circumstances".
The immigration minister Liam Byrne previously denied that immigration officials knew Mrs P had been breastfeeding her child.
But in a letter to the human rights campaigner and Liberal Democrat peer Lord Avebury, Mr Byrne said records of the case had been re-examined.
The letter written on Monday said: "I can advise you that the interview record does show that Mrs P informed the immigration officer that she was 'feeding baby'. The immigration officer has said she did not consider that this clearly indicated that Mrs P was breastfeeding her child."
The immigration officer, from Communications House, in central London, had since been retrained, Mr Byrne said.
He also revealed that new instructions were to be sent out by the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND).
"Specific guidance should be developed in relation to breastfeeding mothers and parents of young children," he said.
"This should include a requirement that breastfeeding children should not be separated from their mothers unless there are compelling and exceptional circumstances which indicate that this may be appropriate."
He added that the same approach should be taken to the separation of any young children from their mothers, regardless of whether they were breastfeeding.
The guidance will state that any decision to separate young children from mothers can only be taken at the level of IND assistant director.
But Lord Avebury said the government should go further.
"There should be an outright ban on separating breastfeeding mothers from their children. I don't see why they should ever have to do it," he said.
He also urged the chief inspector of prison, Anne Owers, and the children's commissioner, Sir Al Aynsley Green, to monitor immigration officials to ensure it did not happen again.
In the meantime, Lord Avebury has written to Ms Owers and Sir Al asking them to investigate how many other women have been separated from young children in the drive to deport failed asylum seekers.