DETENTION – UNITED KINGDOM: JP, 10

Artist: Monann De Jong

JP, FROM AFRICA, DETAINED IN THE UK, AGED 10

JP, then aged four, arrived in the UK with her mother in 2003. JP’s mother had been subjected to domestic violence by her partner many times in the presence of JP, stemming from the mother’s reluctance to allow her child to be circumcised.

After arrival in the UK, JP flourished. She was a popular child at school who was seen as an able and academically gifted pupil. However, some years after living in the UK she and her mother were subjected to a dawn raid and taken to Yarl’s Wood IRC [Immigration Reception Centre]. On route, JP reportedly witnessed her mother being hit over the head by an immigration officer. When she was detained she began to wet her bed, and eat less.

In June 2009, JP witnessed the forcible break up of families protesting in Yarl’s Wood. In part, these protests were against the impact of detention on their children. JP says she saw blood when the head of one protestor was hit against a wall.

Prior to the break up of this protest, an attempt was made to remove JP and her mother from
the UK, but this was cancelled because of the extreme distress the girl was experiencing. At some point after this failed removal attempt, UKBA’s [UK Border Agency’s] Office of the Children’s Champion authorised the use of force against her if she was to resist removal again.

A second attempt involved tricking the girl by asking her to run an errand for staff in the IRC, and then locking her in a room with DCOs [Detention Custody Officers] for approximately an hour before her mother arrived. However, this removal was eventually cancelled after being prevented by lawyers. After being transferred to Tinsley House IRC, the family were released.

The mother was again detained after a few months and her daughter lived with a relative for a further few months. In this period, an independent psychotherapist assessed JP and raised concerns that she was suffering from PTSD, and that another period of detention could instigate ‘a further deterioration in her functioning, suicidal thoughts and possibly a shift into psychosis’. Nonetheless, in the following month JP was detained and the relative was not allowed to accompany her to Tinsley House.

Reportedly, a social worker, who was observing the dawn raid, looked on as the girl was taken away ‘screaming and crying inconsolably’.

Within a few days of being taken to Tinsley House, JP was found, tying electrical cord around her own neck, stating that she wanted to die. JP was assessed again a few days later by an expert psychologist who concluded she was suffering from depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

Another expert found the traumatic incidents JP had experienced, created a range of impacts including changes in her self-identity, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, mood disturbances, overdeveloped avoidance responses, and disassociation as a way to try and push difficult feelings from her mind.

This expert observed difficulties in the progress of development, stating that whilst JP ‘seems to be on the cusp of childhood and pre-adolescence… she functions psychologically as a much younger child’.

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Artwork by Monann De Jong