By (Jason) Hung Yu Shing*
“The 2001 Detention Centre Rule states the purpose of detention centers shall be to provide for the secure but humane accommodation of detained persons in a relaxed regime with as much freedom of movement and association as possible, consistent with maintaining a safe and secure environment, and to encourage and assist detained persons to make productive use of their time whilst respecting in particular their dignity and the right to individual expression.” – Mary Borsworth
Affluent countries, most notably Germany and Sweden, have cultivated a public image as moral nations, particularly over recent years. They are frequently praised for their willingness to host refugees fleeing from countries in turmoil. However, a 2015 report by the Office of the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) challenged these assumptions. In the report, the five richest nations in terms of GDP (the United States, China, Japan, the United Kingdom and Germany), hosted less than 5% of refugees in that year. In fact, over 86% of refugees are hosted in developing countries where resources are scarce. While developed countries endorse signing and sponsoring international conventions and resolutions in order to bolster refugee rights, their efforts in terms of hosting refugees are very limited.
To better understand this, Mary Bosworth, a professor from the University of Oxford, delves into the living conditions in 6 Immigration Removal Centers (IRCs) in London. She aims to unveil the inner story, and showcase the negative aspects, of those refugee hubs in London. Earlier this year, over 1 million British citizens signed the petition to bar U.S. President, Donald J. Trump, from debuting and speaking at the British Parliament, as an expression of their discontent upon immigration policies that became known as the “Muslim Ban.” In line with the local citizens, British political leaders, including Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, overtly expressed their disagreement of the “Muslim Ban”, seeing such immigration policies as a violation of moral principles. Ironically, Bosworth reveals that the living conditions at IRCs in London were demeaning to most, if not all, detained refugees. One detainee named Singh, who doesn’t speak English, suffers from continuous racial harassment and assault from five white inmates. He is left both physically and mentally impaired, after having hot tea and soup thrown on him, and being struck with a metal tray (Bosworth, 2014: 44). With respect to all racially divisive situations, it is a shame that the responsible wardens deliberately overlook it.
The predominant reason is because many wardens, who are initially hired in the interest of detainees’ safety, lack the required sense of responsibility to fulfill their duties. Ammon, for example, as many other wardens, merely sees his job as a stepping stone to help him become a police officer in two years. Others, like Arvil, simply work as a detention officer because they need a stable income (Bosworth, 2014: 156).
Aside from the possibility to stay with violent and racist inmates, detained refugees in IRCs are forced to live with ex-prisoners because these detention centers are also former prisons. “Why do we lock up illegal immigrants beside violent criminals in our toughest jails?” MP Tom Clarke questions on behalf of the detainees (Page 44). Albeit the aforementioned 2001 Detention Center Rule unambiguously states that detainees should live in a secure, humane and relaxed environment, these vulnerable groups are in fact living in places where lives can be compromised, and dignity is undermined (Bosworth, 2014: 3).
May reiterates the British position to strengthen the immigration scrutiny and lower the amount of immigrants down to 100,000 or below. Therefore, May indirectly engenders more illegal immigrants sneaking into the United Kingdom with false identification. Hence, there are as many as nearly 3,000 refugees and/or asylum seekers detained in any of the IRCs daily (Bosworth, 2014: 2). If these immigrants were to be repatriated, it is most likely that they would be persecuted. As a result, these vulnerable groups are deadlocked – they cannot return to their socio-politically unstable home countries, nor can they legally reside in the United Kingdom.
Bosworth, M. (2014), Inside Immigration Detention, pp. 2-3, 44, 156 available at: http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199675470.001.0001/acprof-9780199675470
Grinberg, E. (2017), “Travel ban: UK petition to stop Trump state visit hits 1 million”, CNN, available at: http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/29/europe/uk-petition-president-trump-ban-trnd/index.html
Norton, B. (2016), “The 5 richest countries host just 5% of refugees – 86% are in developing countries”, SALON, available at: http://www.salon.com/2016/06/10/the_5_richest_countries_host_just_5_of_refugees_86_are_in_developing_countries/
Wilson, E. K. et al. (2017), “Refugees, Migrants and World Order”, The refugee crisis and religion: secularism, security and hospitality in question, Rowman & Littlefield International
*(Jason) Hung Yu Shing:
– Visiting Summer Research Scholar at UCLA 2017
– Research Assistant at the University of Warwick 2017
– Research Presenter at International Conference of Undergraduate Research 2016