Jawad Anjum and Steve Rolfe are activists with Global Justice Glasgow, a group of committed people who campaign to tackle the root causes of global poverty and injustice as part of Global Justice Now, a democratic movement in the UK which campaigns in solidarity with people in the global South. They write for Unlocking Detention about a lively campaign that is going on in Scotland.
As part of Global Justice Now, we campaign on issues of global poverty and inequality – trying to change the policies and actions of the UK government and UK based corporations that perpetuate injustice. Around migration, these problems come to the fore when we start to investigate the reasons why people migrate or seek asylum the role of the UK in fostering those conditions. There is no migrant crisis – there’s a crisis caused by war, poverty and inequality.
In recent years we’ve campaigned on a number of issues that drive people to risk their lives in moving around the world, including climate change, food sovereignty and trade. Right now, in the wake of Brexit, trade deals skewed towards profiting multinational corporations to the detriment of developing nations such as TISA will inform future patterns of migration to and from the UK and around the world.
We’re now campaigning directly on migration, joining up with all the incredible organisations who already work on issues around migration, detention and freedom of movement. Throughout 2017 we’ve also been joined by our migrant friend from darkest Peru, helping us to highlight the injustices of UK migration policy – he even joined us on a solidarity visit to Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre.
The connections between the UK’s wider policies on issues such as trade and policies on immigration are undeniable. There have been seven immigration acts passed by the UK parliament in the last eight years, all of them intended to make life harder for undocumented migrants. Finance and goods are granted freedom of movement, whilst people face increasing barriers at the border.
And if people do manage to get into the UK ‘illegally’, they are at risk of being detained without trial or time limit. In Scotland, the recent death of a Chinese man at Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre has brought the detention centre into the spotlight once again. A detainee’s email to Home Secretary Amber Rudd in response to this death perfectly highlights the cry of those whose liberty is wrenched from them just as they reach out for refuge and sanctuary.
Browsing the web page for Dungavel on the GEO group’s website, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a luxurious estate fit for a weekend jaunt to the country. This, of course, only serves to hide the darker realities of life inside its walls which are better symbolised by the high metal fences and barbed wires that surrounds it. While the private operators of what is called ‘Scotland’s Shame’ profit handsomely from detention, its detainees continue to suffer.
GEO group donated heavily to Donald Trump’s campaign in the United States and continues to lobby for private prison contracts. Trump’s subsequent crackdown on immigration across the board has been a great boon to the corporation which has seen rising profits and stock prices as a result. The group runs around 104 detention centres worldwide, including on Guantanamo Bay.
The adverse effects on mental health alone should justify government action for the implementation of alternative solutions. A parliamentary enquiry into the same details this, in particular, with regards to the lack of any time limit on detention – a situation in Europe which is unique to the UK.
The aforementioned enquiry outlines the lack of adequate healthcare in immigration removal centres, the detention of victims of trafficking and torture (rather than referral), women feeling intimidated by male staff, the ‘prison-like’ conditions and restrictions on internet access vital for detainee’s connection to the outside world.
The litany of cases of needless suffering caused by detention would require an anthology of its own to detail properly. Whether it’s denying people proper support and formal education, holding someone for two and a half years (11 months of which were in Dungavel) or the high numbers of suicide attempts, the evidence against such excessive use of detention is overwhelming.
In the spotlight is where this detention centre needs to be; away from the shadows, the darkness where the voices of its detainees are not heard and their stories not told. Even when driven to hunger strikes, the coverage of their plight is pitifully under reported throughout the British media.
This ties into the British media’s portrayal of immigrants as a whole. It becomes particularly cruel during times of crisis, such as we see in the Mediterranean. When support is most badly needed to enable refugees to seek protection and establish themselves in a new country, the media is focused on linking asylum seekers to crime and fraud rather than presenting a truthful and balanced view of their situation; a view which might give insight into the underlying problems and allow us to talk about long term solutions rather than vilifying those in the most dire and precarious of situations.
To this end, Global Justice Now is currently campaigning for an inquiry into racism in the Press as well as targeting the Daily Mail specifically, directly and through its advertisers, for its toxic and hateful portrayal of some of the most vulnerable people in our society. One example is that of Marks & Spencers, a company that prides itself on its ethical standards and yet continues to fund hate through its advertising in the Daily Mail. It’s ironic that M&S are using Paddington Bear for their Christmas advertising this year when Paddington himself was an immigrant from deepest, darkest Peru. Under current policy, he would have been considered an undocumented immigrant and may well have ended up in a detention centre!
The location of Dungavel certainly doesn’t help the situation. You’ll find this to be the case for other detention centres around the UK. They’re situated in remote locations that are invariably difficult to get to which makes it harder for visitors, family, friends or activists to meet the detainees themselves. This isolation, of course, compounds the harmful effects on the mental health of the detainees.
Despite this, the laudable efforts of volunteers from organisations such as Scottish Detainee Visitors means that the stories of the detainees are reported, the conditions in which they are forced to live are monitored and they are quite often the only familiar faces the detainees see outside of the immigration service.
International Migrant’s Day (18th December) is fast approaching – an ideal opportunity to celebrate ‘a courageous expression of the individual’s will to overcome adversity and to live a better life’. Global Justice Glasgow will be around the city centre with our friend Paddington Bear to raise awareness of these issues and encourage people to take action.
The core problem with Immigration Removal Centres is simple. You shouldn’t lock people up for indefinite periods of time without a trial or a time limit. It is detrimental to their well-being in ways we still don’t fully understand. We need to look at the root causes of what drives people to a level of such abject desperation that they’re willing to risk life and limb to get to the UK rather than locking them up in far flung corners of the country, in the shadows where they can’t be seen or heard. It’s time for this cruel and unjust practice to end where more humane, community-based alternatives can be arranged and each person regardless of origin or circumstance is treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve.