UK’s use of force against asylum seekers under scrutiny
The State’s use of force against immigration detainees has come under scrutiny, as a man died in immigration detention on 10 February.
As news emerged of the death of an 84 year old man in immigration detention – the seventh person to die in Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre since 2001 – questions were being asked on Twitter about whether immigration detention can ever be legitimate. Immigration detention is one facet of State force against individuals. Physical restraint of pregnant asylum seekers or asylum seekers being removed from the UK is another. Failure to prevent someone’s death in detention, yet another.
Are asylum seekers less equal?
However, there has yet to be a mainstream public debate about how the State’s use of force against asylum seekers can be tolerated as legitimate. Such a debate would raise troubling questions: why is it we in the UK allow our governments to detain, restrain – and even fail to prevent the deaths – of asylum seekers, including victims of torture? Do we really care so little, so long as we can say the victims are ‘different’ or ‘foreign’, or at least ‘non-British’?
Pregnant asylum seekers
This week the UK Border Agency backed down on its hitherto uncompromising stance that it is entitled to use force against pregnant women and children, but as commentators including the Free Movement Blog – noted, it took a court challenge against Theresa May and the Home Office to evince such a human reaction as reinstating a policy not to refrain from using force against pregnant women.
A report published this week by Maternity Action and the Refugee Council demonstrates the effects of the government’s policy of ‘dispersing’ pregnant asylum-seeking women and their babies around the UK. The UKBA routinely subcontracts security companies to evict pregnant asylum seekers; one woman was evicted on the day she was going to be induced, even though UKBA and G4S (the security company) knew this.
Another example of the State’s use of force against asylum seekers, the UK’s treatment of pregnant asylum seekers highlights the consequences of asserting that only British people have human rights in Britain.
Forcible removals from the UK
Earlier this month the BBC reported the alleged assault suffered by Marius Betondi during a Heathrow deportation. Marius is by no-means the first person to suffer at the hands of UKBA-employed security staff. Jimmy Mubenga’s death while being forcibly removed from the UK on a flight from Heathrow emphasised the UK’s failure to treat asylum seekers as human, as does the failure to bring charges in his case.
Fear of the State
Refugees, by definition, are fleeing their country of origin because of a well-founded fear of persecution. The question is what do people have to fear in the UK?