A forgotten people: detained refugees of the U.K

highlights the dire need for media attention toward Britian’s forgotten Asylum seekers


The U.K utilises detention in asylum procedures more so than most other countries in Europe. An increased reliance on the Detained Fast Track procedure (DTF) meant that in 2015, 15,000 of the 33,000 individuals who were detained, were asylum seekers. The U.K is also one of the few countries without a maximum time limit for detained individuals. Unsurprisingly, these statistics go largely unnoticed due to the neglect of media attention. Not dissimilar is the government’s silence regarding arms sales to countries on the human rights watch list, namely Libya and Syria, both of which constitute large populations of fleeing asylum seekers, which begs the question; why is the U.K failing to take responsibility for integrating refugees into our society? 

Whether awaiting deportation, or anxiously anticipating the promise of refugee status, over 100 asylum seekers were detained for over a year in 2015, which indicates a dire need for a revival in discourse concerning mobility, citizenship and the U.K laws that dictate refugee processing. Agency is rooted in mobility, and mobility in citizenship. When we remove one’s agency to be mobile, it is citizenship that one must fall back on in order to affirm and sustain identity. What we observe in the presence of Refugee detainment centres, are systems in which individuals are purposefully alienated from their mobility, heritage andcitizenship, and consequently experience a lessened sense of identity, as either refugees, asylum seekers, or migrants. They become powerless ‘non-citizens’. Combine this with the language of criminality used to process asylum seekers in the U.K, and we are left with an increasingly alarming situation. Surveys reveal mental health issues to be rife amongst detention centres, with detainees often being transferred to medical facilities, only to eventually return to the same centres which engendered such trauma. The profundity of this phenomenon is only increased when we consider the number of child detainees exposed to similar experiences. In 2015, 128 children were detained in the U.K. As U.K laws do not recognise siblings as family, unaccompanied child refugees living alone, without the right to be reunited with their families, are an increasingly common feature of U.K detention centres. Needless to say the psychological impact of which is ineffable. 

Despite the overwhelming need to critique current refugee processing systems, there can be no doubt that dealing with refugee movement necessitates a nuanced and thoughtful approach. There is no mono-causal solution to the refugee crisis, but observing public media discourse brings to light concerning patterns. When we discuss mobility and citizenship, we call into existence boundaries that encourage division and hostility, which inevitably produce the categorisation of ‘us’ and ‘them’. This is perhaps the most dangerous element of contemporary discourse surrounding migration; should we be considering the right to asylum, special? A luxury? The politicisation of asylum renders citizenship, a human right which we take entirely for granted, a fantasy for most refugees within the U.K. We must urge our current government to de-politicise humanitarian crises, and work harder at developing long term discourse with people who are here to stay. 

Proposals of introducing limits to detainee sentences would constitute a welcome push in the right trajectory for transforming ideologies that sustain detainment centres, but frustratingly, vulnerable people will continue to suffer within these systems if radical change is not pursued at the next opportunity. Largely un-publicised, we must encourage public discourse surrounding these practices within all levels of society, in efforts to draw attention to potentially damaging systems of refugee processing. As of today, detained refugees remain as ever, unheard, un-represented, and unsure of their own futures.

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