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UK Mother Janipher Maseko Separated from Her Nursling While Waiting to be Deported

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Apparently, the United States isn't the only place this happens...

I had an email this morning about the case of Janipher Maseko, a woman living in the UK after immigrating there at age 14 from Uganda that has been detained by the government, separated from her children and was refused access to a breast pump or lactation consultant to help her maintain her milk supply.

Oh yeah, it happened early enough that she was still bleeding lochia from the birth.

After a bit of a search, I was able to turn up an article on the Guardian that confirms the story (though not all of the details.) In fact, it explains that policies have been put in place to keep this very thing from happening after some widely publicized cases in the last few years. And yet...it's happened again.

Ms Maskeo has been kept away from her children for almost two weeks, despite concerns about her health and that of her children. It is also claimed that, at Yarl's Wood she has been denied access to a breast pump to relieve her pain and allow her to continue to lactate.

Ms Maseko has now been told she will be reunited with her children, but only after a concerted campaign by experts, charities, MPs and the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Avebury.

Lesley Page is a professor in midwifery at King's College London and one of many who took up the case, raising concerns with the immigration minister Liam Byrne, who last year accepted the need to end the practice of separating breastfeeding mothers from their children.

In a letter to Mr Byrne on Sunday, Prof Page said: "Ms Maseko is extremely distraught and desperate to see her children. Her breasts are full of milk and she is in constant pain. Her children need to be urgently reunited with their mother.

"The forcible separation of the mother from her very young children and our failure to provide her and her family with essential health care and support is an act that is so inhumane its difficult to believed that it would happen."

The UK listserv Mumsnet has more details:

Ms Janipher Maseko, aged 18, who had fled rape and violence in Uganda and sought asylum in the UK four years ago as an unaccompanied minor, contacted BWRAP on 18 May from Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre through a fax written with the assistance of other detained women whom BWRAP is helping. Ms Maseko was terrified that she would be deported without her newborn son and one-year-old daughter from whom she had been separated for about 10 days.

Through daily phone calls and co-ordinating with others at the detention centre who have helped, we have put together the basic facts of Ms Maseko's ordeal. Ms Maseko's asylum claim had been closed in March 2007 when she was heavily pregnant. Hillingdon Social Services, responsible for her at the time, immediately stopped all support and evicted her and her baby daughter.

Staff at Hillingdon Hospital had to press Social Services to rehouse her. But at the end of April, a week after her son was born, Social Services evicted her again and threw away all her belongings. Ms Maseko tried to reach a friend in Brighton and was sleeping rough in Crawley when passers-by found her and called the police. Sussex Social Services put her babies into foster care even though she was breastfeeding her infant son and there was no cause to doubt her fitness and eagerness to care for her children – Ms Maseko needed shelter, money and healthcare. No arrangements were made to help her keep in touch with her children. Still bleeding after childbirth and with engorged breasts, Ms Maseko was held in a cell for four days without a shower or change of clothes.

Ms Maseko was taken to Yarl's Wood. She was still given no change of clothes or toiletries. In great pain in her breasts and groin, and unable to sleep, she received no healthcare from SERCO, the multinational company running Yarl's Wood. She wanted to breastfeed when her son was returned, but SERCO offered her no help to express her milk and maintain her milk production. This is not an isolated example of mistreatment – many other women are suffering under SERCO's regime.

I'm still trying to get confirmation of what I'm reading online, but it looks like things are *starting* to look up...

We were greatly encouraged by the immediate and practical response of the breastfeeding sisterhood beginning with Sheila Kitzinger, whose compassion and dedication we have always been able to count on, Lesley Page, former Joint Head of Midwifery at St Thomas Hospital, and Morgan Gallagher, who started Nursing Matters to support breastfeeding mothers caught up in the asylum system, as well as Lord Avebury. This response included contacting the press, MPs and relevant officials, organising local breastfeeding support, writing letters, providing expert and background information, and sending Ms Maseko money to keep open her life line to BWRAP – her mobile phone. Condemnation of Ms Maseko's treatment forced the authorities to reunite Ms Maseko and her traumatised children two weeks after they were taken.

IWCN asked Alistair Burt MP, whose constituency includes Yarl's Wood, to arrange for Ms Maseko to have the expert help she needed to resume breastfeeding. As a result Yarl's Wood management agreed to allow one local designated person with relevant expertise to see her as needed. At the last minute the immigration authorities and SERCO reneged, asserting that SERCO would only provide "appropriate" support.

Their contract is worth £87 million but they did nothing – one visitor was told "breastfeeding can wait". Despite this, due to Ms Maseko's determination and some timely advice before her children were returned, Ms Maseko's breast milk is returning. She is, however, worried about her children‘s health and how they were cared for by Sussex Social Services – the daughter lost weight; the son didn't grow – as well as the long-term effect of their traumatic forced parting from her.

Right now, here's what the groups working with Ms. Maseko have asked us to do:

1. Urge that Ms Maseko and her children be immediately released, housed, supported and granted asylum, and that there be a prompt independent investigation into her treatment by SERCO and all those in authority who were responsible for her care.

Fax or email your letter to:

Liam Byrne MP, Minister of State for Immigration, Nationality and Citizenship, Fax: 020 7035 4745 liam.byrne.submissions@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk

Meg Munn MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Women and Equality)
Fax: 020 7944 5891 munnm@parliament.uk

Beverley Hughes MP, Minister for Children, Young People & Families
Fax:020 7219 2961 hughesb@parliament.uk

Patricia Hewitt MP, Secretary of State for Health, Fax: 020 7210 5410.

Brian Pollett, Head of Detention Services, Brian.Pollett2@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk

Victoria Jones, Director of Yarl's Wood, Fax: 01234 821152

Remember to copy your letter to bwrap@dircon.co.uk or fax it to 020 7209 4761

I've got an email in to Morgan Gallagher to see if I can get confirmation and some additional information for you. Until then, she does have updates posted on her blog...the latest as of this writing is that Ms. Maseko has been reunited with her children but will be deported to Uganda on June 1st. The children have received deportation/removal orders too, but there is not yet confirmation that they will be placed on the same plane.

While you can read her entire post, here's one little bit that I want to especially highlight:

Despite official neglect, Ms Maseko has managed to return Colin to her breast and is hoping to dispense with Powdered Infant Formula as quickly as she can. Thre is real pressure on this now, as if she is returned to Africa before this occurs, the health risks to Colin are immense - especially as she will have no support in whatever country she is returned to.

Keep in mind that this isn't JUST about deporting a family...it's about first putting the long-term health of this baby at risk by a forced separation that could have led to the end of breastfeeding prior to sending the mother and child back to a country lacking in clean water supply and in ready/affodable access to formula. In other words, even if you don't have a problem with the deportation, it's hard to argue that this treatment can be in any way excused or justified.

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  1. Blogger Sarahbear | 6:39 AM |  

    How can people be so cruel to such vulnerable people?

    4 days without a shower or a change of clothes/appropriate toiletries while she's recovering from child birth? Do they realize the types of infections she could have gotten while under their care?

    2 weeks away from her newborn while they decided whether or not he actually needed breast milk?

    I don't even know where to begin in writing a letter because I'm so angry about this woman's treatment. Any other talking points to go on or are we just urging them to keep the family together?

  2. Blogger Nevanna | 9:02 AM |  

    Wow. This just makes me sooo angry I don't think I could put together a coherent letter without resorting to pretty crude name-calling. I barely got by the first few days post-partem when I was comfortably at home with the appropriate clothing/sanitation items. I just find this totally unbelievable. This young woman is fleeing from a country where she is violated to just be violated in another manner. People are too caught up in the need to "punish" to see how vulnerable such individuals truly are.

  3. Anonymous Brenda Zizolfo | 11:15 AM |  

    I have no words...

  4. Blogger Alena | 11:46 AM |  

    This made my heart hurt. Being forced to be apart from your nursing newborn and a one year old sounds like a worst nightmare. It's hard to believe that things like this happen in a supposedly civilized world.

  5. Blogger Nevanna | 12:08 PM |  

    Here's what I wound up sending...

    The first place I heard about the UK immigration case
    of Janipher Maseko and her two young children was via
    a lactivism blog at thelactivist.blogspot.com.
    Essentially, the story is of a young woman (18) with a
    one year old and a two week old. She was fleeing rape
    and persecution in her home country of Uganda and
    seeking asylum in the UK. Shortly after the birth of
    her second child, she was detained, seperated from her
    children, and facing deportation.

    The conditions did not allow her to express milk nor
    provide her with appropriate sanitation. Anyone who
    has been around childbirth knows this is an extremely
    vulnerable period. Not only is an immediately
    post-partem woman physically weak, she is emotionally
    drained. She was not allowed to work at breastfeeding
    her new son (and it does take work) nor was she
    allowed access to a pump. This is not only physically
    painful, but risks developing mastitis and threatens
    the proper establishment of an adequate milk supply.

    At first I considered simply attaching my name to a
    form letter. That, however, seemed too impersonal.

    I am writing to urge you that Ms. Maseko and her
    children be immediately released, housed, supported
    and granted asylum, and that there be a prompt
    independent investigation into her treatment by SERCO
    and all those in authority who were responsible for
    her care.

    If we don't stand up for these vulnerable individuals,
    who will?


    ( My Real Name :) )

  6. Blogger Nevanna | 12:09 PM |  

    Also, iam.byrne.submissions@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk came back as an undeliverable email address....

  7. Blogger Ahmie | 7:44 AM |  

    don't think I can comment much without a string of profanity. Any idea how much help US citizens can be in this? My husband has some family in the UK but not sure if he'd be willing to involve them (they're Chinese and immigrants there themselves, and not sure how pro-breastfeeding they are).

  8. Blogger Cagey | 12:58 PM |  

    I posted about this on my breastfeeding site, too. Stories like this make me seethe. SEETHE. I understand that in some cases children can't be kept with their mother, but she should have been allowed access to a breast pump, at the very minimum. The article I read said there were concerns for the mother's mental health and the welfare of the children, but that is no excuse for her inhumane treatment.

  9. Blogger Naki | 7:22 AM |  

    I'm speechless- I think the hairs on my neck are standing up. I read about this a few days ago and sent my two sense. I couldn't even begin to imagine how she felt. The post partum period is challenging all on it's own- with all those raging hormones trying to level out. As for the children I pray they will be okay after this. Those poor honey's. My heart is breaking- no one should be treated like this no matter what.

  10. Anonymous jax | 11:56 AM |  

    Within the UK we are supposed to write to our own MPs rather than any others, but I'll certainly do that - I'm sure that my MP will be as distressed as I am to learn of this story. I'll publicise on my blog too, might get a few more UK readers writing to their MPs.

    It makes me ashamed of my country.

  11. Anonymous Anonymous | 2:52 AM |  

    Just to catch you all up. First of all, thank you for your letters to the various officials. I think we can safely say they have made a difference!

    Janipher and the kids were released from Yarl's Wood detention centre, last Friday, June 1st, the day she was going to be deported to Uganda. She's currently being housed in emergency bed & breakfast accomodation, prior to being found adequate housing.

    She is safe from being deported in the short to medium term, whilst law suits against the police, Social Services and Immigration officials are undertaken by her lawyers. The lawyers who have agreed to take on her case, are specialists in this area.

    In this time, she is supported on welfare. Her housing situation is not ideal, especially with a newborn and a tiny toddler but she has to stay in the system as it's set up.

    Getting out of Yarl's Wood like this, is very rare, and the lawyers are sure that the international profile has helped.

    However, Janipher and the kids may still end up deported. The asylum rules are very severe, and whilst there is no doubt the UK authorities acted illegally - and inhumanely - in their treatment of Janipher, and that this will addressed legally... it will likely not effect immigration status at all.

    Deportation is a long term issue, however, and in the breathing space we have, many people are working to try and help Janipher and her babies recover from this ordeal.

    Many politicians have been shocked by how she was treated, and how easily it could have been hidden from everyone - so we can only hope that this will help bring about long term change in both attitudes and proceedure.

    So again - thank you everyone who wrote, emailed or faxed. I will keep you update, and rest assured - we will keep fighting for her. :-)

    Morgan Gallagher www.nursingmatters.org.uk

  12. Blogger The Lactivist | 5:28 AM |  

    Morgan, I'm going to repost this as a new post so no one misses it...

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