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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 July 2005, 09:15 GMT 10:15 UK
'My six-year-old suffered in detention'
By Stephen Hawkes
BBC News website

Zahrieh and Navid Rahimi Larki
Zahrieh and Navid Rahimi Larki are now back in Wolverhampton
The chief inspector of prisons says children are being "damaged" by their detention at the government's largest immigration removal centre, Yarl's Wood, near Bedford.

BBC News spoke to an asylum seeker who spent 32 days there with her six-year-old son.

At 0600 BST on Monday, 16 May, Zahrieh Rahimi Larki was woken by a knock at her door.

When she opened it, seven police officers came into her home and told her and her husband, Alirezah, they were being deported to Iran.

Mrs Rahimi Larki, who suffers from depression and had been prescribed sleeping pills, went into shock and started shaking.

One of the officers went to wake her six-year-old son, Navid.

Navid's first thought was that he did not want to miss school that day, his mother said.

The children kind of become invisible, nobody looks at what is happening to the child and what damage detention may do
Anne Owers
Chief Inspector of Prisons

"I want to go to school," he told the officer towering over his bed.

"No, you must go back to Iran," he was told.

Mrs Rahimi Larki said the policeman did the boy's packing - two T-shirts, two pairs of trousers, and some old toy puppets.

Then, with each family member flanked by two officers, they were taken to the government's largest immigration removal centre, Yarl's Wood.

When they arrived, the whole family went on hunger strike.

After 24 hours without food, Navid was having stomach cramps and it was clear he could not continue.

Yarl's Wood detention centre
The family spent 32 days at Yarl's Wood detention centre

But his parents stayed on hunger strike, drinking only water and sweet tea, for four weeks.

They started eating again only after being told Navid would be taken into care if they became too weak to look after him properly.

Meanwhile, Navid's behaviour had started to deteriorate, his mother said.

"He was very badly behaved," she told BBC News, "and he wouldn't listen to us.

"He kept saying 'I don't like it here', and he blamed us."

Before arriving at Yarl's Wood, Navid was "a very good student" who loved school and listened to his parents, Mrs Rahimi Larki said.

Yarl's Wood detention centre
From Monday to Friday, Navid had limited access to a playroom

He spoke perfect English and played the piano in the church linked to his school, Saint Mary's Catholic School, in Wolverhampton.

But following his detention, Navid's education was dramatically interrupted.

From Monday to Friday, he had limited access to a library, a playroom and a concrete yard with some swings in it.

There were some toys, some paints, a chessboard and one teacher.

But Navid found it difficult to adjust.

He missed his teachers, his friends and his home.

As his parents' condition deteriorated, Navid began blaming himself, his mother said.

Yarl's Wood detention centre
Navid had to return to his family's room to be checked

"He was very nervous and anxious he had done something."

His parents would spend long periods of time asleep and, finding it difficult to adjust to the centre's strict timetable, he too would often miss meals.

Navid made friends with other children at the centre, but most of them would not stay for more than a week before being deported or released.

Four times every day, Navid had to return to his family's room to be checked and, sometimes, searched by the Yarl's Wood officers - or "monsters" as he had christened them.

There is no suggestion the officers acted inappropriately.

"The room was very small - like a cage - and he is very active," his mother said.

Yarl's Wood detention centre
Navid was often too late for meals

"He wants to play football and run around. It was very difficult for him."

After 32 days' detention, Mrs Rahimi Larki and Navid were released after his head teacher agreed to stand surety for them.

The next day Navid was back at school.

He was given extra homework to make up for the time he had missed, and in his end-of-term report he was given A-grades in maths, computer studies, history and music.

But Navid cannot forget his time at Yarl's Wood - his father remains in detention, his mother is still very weak, and every night he cries himself to sleep, his mother said.

Listen to welfare details of the detained children

Yarl's Wood 'lessons not learnt'
13 Feb 05 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts
Yarl's Wood future under review
08 Feb 05 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts
New Yarl's Wood concerns raised
19 Jun 04 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts
Yarl's Wood staff proved racist
30 Apr 04 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts
Yarl's Wood public inquiry turned down
16 Sep 03 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts

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