What ‘A Future Without Immigration Detention’ could look like…..
In 1993 250 migrants were detained in immigration detention centres. Compare this figure with the record number of 28,909 migrants who were detained in 2012 . With the detention estate expanding rapidly year-by-year it has become clear that civil society needs to form a response. Should we promote ‘alternatives’ to detention? But, what do we mean by alternatives? Could these end up referring to a variety of measures which might prove more harmful to migrants or might they offer more ‘humane’ forms of immigration control? On the other hand, should we reject alternatives and stand by a principled opposition to border controls and advocate for the end of immigration detention full stop? Are these positions mutually exclusive? It is these questions that we will address during the conference ‘A Future Without Immigration Detention’.
The human costs of detention have been well documented: social isolation, unfair treatment by staff, inadequate medical facilities, lack of privacy, denial of personal freedoms, and constant uncertainty about their future. These are all common experiences for detainees.This should be reason enough to end detention.
In addition to this, detainees find themselves in an immigration system which systematically disadvantages them by limiting their access to adequate legal support; a situation which has only worsened with the recent Legal Aid cuts.
However, in deciding how we respond to detention we must place it in its larger context. The political expediency of scapegoating ‘the migrant’ has only increased with the effects of the financial crisis. Increasing public hostility directed towards migrants has directly affected their livelihoods and safety. Detention is part of this larger picture. A form of immigration control through which the government attempts to communicate symbolically to the public their desire and capability to control, deter, and ultimately deport unwanted migrants.
The fact that detention is utterly ineffective in all of these aims is rarely discussed publicly. As recent figures have shown 40% of those detained in 2012 were eventually returned to the community. Thus removal is clearly not imminent. As academic Leerkes has argued in relation to the Netherlands the link between an increase in deportations because of an increase in detention is often more assumed than supported by evidence.
Research has also shown detention does not deter migrants. As academic Gibney argues: ‘no western state that uses long-term detention has so far provided anything more than the flimsiest evidence to show that this practice has any effect on asylum seeker numbers‘. Research done in 2002 by the Home Office confirms this, as it showed that asylum and detention policies were ‘among the least considerations’ of migrants decision to come to the UK. This is not to say ‘deterrence’ is a reputable aim rather it just highlights the utter pointlessness of detention.
The costs of detention highlight this further. Director of Detention Action Jerome Phelps quotes a report which showed that ‘£75 million per year is wasted on the unnecessary long-term detention of migrants who are ultimately released.’ Thus from a financial perspective detention does not seem justifiable either, unless you are the CEO of one of the outsourced private companies running a detention centre. As Christine Bacon eloquently argued: ”Those who are serious about reforming the detention regime [….] would be well advised to regard the interest of private companies as an important element in the evolution of the detention estate‘.
During our conference on the 26th and 27th April ‘A Future Without Immigration Detention’ we hope to take all of these factors into consideration when debating how we should – as individuals and organisations – respond to the reality and expansion of immigration detention. Several experts, activists, legal practitioners, and scholars working in the field of immigration detention will present their views on this – including Bail for Immigration Detainees (BiD), National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (NCADC), Detention Action (DA), Movement for Justice (MfJ), Liza Schuster from City University, and Parvathi Raman from SOAS.
Through these debates and talks we aim to understand the risks and implications of advocating for ‘alternatives’. In this way we will deepen our understanding of what it means to envision ‘A Future Without Immigration Detention’.