Cruelty as Policy: the Truth about Indefinite Detention
In the wake of the Panorama investigation about G4S management of Brook House Detention Centre, Fuad Alakbarov looks at the bigger picture.
Many people in the UK may wonder why it was essential to set up detention centres in remote parts of the country. Each detention centre is encircled by guards and razor wire, making it appear to be in circumstances of big secrecy, with all staff and visiting medical workers being forbidden from telling outsiders about conditions in the indefinite detention centres. Staff within the centres are obstructed and intimidated if they want to report physical or sexual abuse of detainees
Britain’s immigration removal centres (IRC) have originally been intended to lock detainees for a short period, while their applications were being processed and their claims to refugee status were considered. Nevertheless that has long since ceased to justify the existence of these quasi-prisons.
The ugliest feature, though, is the indefinite factor of the detention, and that so many of the detainees, including refugees who have recognized their entitlement to refugee status have been held for more than two years, and face an indefinite future in detention. In addition, according to the latest statistics from Home Office more than 50 per cent of those detained are not deported but released back into the community.
The conditions in IRCs are depressing, the guards are aggressive, and detainees are frequently physically and verbally abused. Furthermore, the detrimental psychological effects of indefinite detention include severe and chronic anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and permanent personality changes.
“I tried to commit suicide. If you are suicidal, the guards take you to the isolation unit,” said Arnold Collins*, a detainee seeking asylum from Uganda. “I thought that was the fastest method out of my pain and misery. In detention, detainees are like the flock of sheep, being chased by pack of wolves.”
“It is extremely disturbing how fast immigration detention centres have grown globally over the last 30 years,” says Natalia Farmer, Glasgow Caledonian University’s PhD researcher in Social Work and Allied Health Sciences.
“the immigration industrial complex is a profit driven mentality which criminalizes those fleeing war, persecution and violent conflict. Worryingly, the promotion of ‘criminality’ alongside restrictive, discriminatory policies and legislation escalates this toxic mentality with inhumane consequences. Private multinational security companies such as G4S and Serco, who have history of human rights violations and discrimination in the UK should not be anywhere near those seeking safety.”
Kate Alexander, the director of Scottish Detainee Visitors, says as visitors to people detained in Dungavel, they meet people in all sorts of circumstances.
“They include people who the Home Office believe have breached the terms of their work or study visas; foreign nationals who have completed a prison sentence but are facing the additional punishment of deportation; European nationals who have been picked up by the police because they were thought to be begging or sleeping rough; and people who have sought asylum in the UK. What unites them is the fact that they are all detained indefinitely. None of them knows when they enter detention how long they will be there. And it can be a very long time – the latest Home Office figures show that one man had been in detention for more than four years.”
The Home Office policy towards asylum seekers is one of measured and calculated cruelty. It is undoubtedly considered to make the situation of detainees unbearable, to brutalise them, and to force them to return to their home countries; for instance, Syrians must return to areas controlled by the ISIS, which have waged massacres against them; and those asylum seekers with political background who have escaped Iran must return to the Tehran’s horrendous Evin prison, one of the most terrifying places in the world.
“Migrants and Asylum Seekers are being unnecessarily detained and traumatised for months and sometimes even years under an unjust and antiquated system,” Nicola Hay, Show Racism Red the Card Scotland campaign manager, says. “The UK is the only country within the European Union that does not have a time limit on how long an individual can be detained for. Indefinite detention is a cruel and inhumane practice imposed on vulnerable human being who have often faced harrowing circumstances fleeing persecution and are then subjected to further persecution upon arriving in the UK. We need to stand in solidarity for the freedom of those who have been detained and for those who face being detained indefinitely in the future and say no more.”
The immigration removal centres in Britain have long since ceased to be mere detention centres. The policy of detaining refugees indefinitely with in the punitive manner described creates an impression that they appearing to be modern day concentration camps.
It is abhorrent to think that Britain was among the founders and first signatories of the Refugee Convention.
It is high time for Theresa May and the rest of her allies to scrap those centres, fulfil the obligations Britain accepted under international treaties. They need to recognise the elementary moral and ethical standards on which these treaties are founded and resettle the detainees in Britain.
* Names changed for security reasons