The event was organized to celebrate the successes of CITIZENS for Sanctuary over the past year and half and to pay tribute to the leaders and partners who have worked together over the past 6 months to bring about an end to detaining children and families for Immigration Reasons.
Around 80 leaders, partners and funders gathered at Westminster Abbey to celebrate and to meet other leaders from around the country. A number of MPs who had signed the pledge were also present as well as Sharon Flannery, Director for London and South East region for UKBA.
Amongst the celebration, there was still politics to be done. CITIZENS wanted to hear when the new coalition government would stop detaining children and families.
Minister Damian Green stated “It was not just a duty but a pleasure to end the practice. This will be a better country when we don't detain children for immigration purposes", he said, adding: "There is no getting away from the fact that if you are a civilised decent human being the sight of young children locked up behind bars should make you feel profoundly uneasy."
Referring to widespread press coverage at Christmas last year over the refusal by Yarl's Wood to allow CITIZENS for Sanctuary leaders to give Christmas presents to the children locked inside, Neil Jameson, Citizens UK executive director), asked Mr Green if he could confirm there would be no children there by next Christmas.
Mr Green also congratulated CITIZENS for Sanctuary campaigners for securing a more humane reception centre at the immigration processing centre at Lunar House in Croydon."I'm pleased to say that when I went there last week it now looks like an entry point for human beings rather than cattle. So that's one significant thing you chalked up even before the issue of children in detention," he told the gathering at Westminster Abbey.
Jeff Sango, leader with CITIZENS for Sanctuary said that “The build up of the campaign against child detention by CITIZENS for Sanctuary , the pre-election debates at the CitizensUK party leaders accountability assembly on 3rd May 2010 and an immediate action to stop child detention by the new coalition government ,through the personal commitment by Minister Damien Green , shows how the power of organising communities by CitizensUK can bring about effective policy changes in government. As a Zimbabwean community leader, I am very excited and encouraged by Minister Damien Green`s immediate response and a call to action by the new coalition government. There can be no better route to good government than constructive engagement between the governed and those who govern them.”