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Wednesday, May 30, 2007Apparently, 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 email@example.com
Meg Munn MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Women and Equality)
Fax: 020 7944 5891 firstname.lastname@example.org
Beverley Hughes MP, Minister for Children, Young People & Families
Fax:020 7219 2961 email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.