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Immigrants dehumanized in UK detention centers|
Jan 17, 2014
When the Clash's Joe Strummer commented: "People are out there doing bad things to each other. That's because they have been dehumanized," he probably didn't have the Home Office and its sub-contractors in mind.
But his words are relevant to the findings of the chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, who investigated some of the appalling practices at Harmondsworth immigration detention centre near Heathrow. In his report published on Thursday, he accused Geo staff at Harmondsworth of "a shocking lack of humanity" when handcuffing two elderly men – one was 84-year-old Alois Dvorzac, who was suffering from dementia, and the other was using a wheelchair following a stroke. In Dvorzac's case the restraints were not removed until after his death; in the second man's case they were removed just hours before he died.
Views about the presence of asylum seekers and other migrants in the UK are polarized, but it's hard to believe that anyone would find this kind of treatment either necessary or acceptable. It also defies logic. Clearly neither of these men were a threat to anyone, nor were they about to sprint out of the nearest exit.
So how did the Geo staff reach this point? In order to behave in this way, dehumanization of the detainee is required. A toxic mix of misinformation and spin over a long period of time is essential in order to get those who are "just carrying out orders" not to flinch when handcuffing those who should not be restrained, or to respond to the cries for help from a dying man – as happened in the case of Muhammad Shukat, another immigration detainee.
Asylum seekers are widely perceived to be a large group of undeserving people who scrounge benefits and gobble up social housing and jobs that should be reserved for British citizens. The facts – that asylum seekers only make up about 5% of migrants, are banned from working, and often have zero government support or accommodation – are drowned out by scaremongering from rightwing tabloids and politicians.
Once these undesirable images have been implanted in our psyches it becomes easy to treat people badly, whether deciding to send them back to countries where their lives are at risk in exchange for the reward of shopping vouchers, or in detention centres, as highlighted in this latest report.
Hardwick manages to claw back some of the humanity we have lost by highlighting shocking individual cases, including the pregnant woman who was tipped out of a wheelchair, which he highlighted in an earlier report into family pre-departure accommodation in Crawley, Sussex.
Whether people have a right to be here because their lives would be in danger if they were forcibly returned, or whether they have not fled persecution and need to be removed, they all have a right to be treated with humanity.
There are many reasons why groups or individuals are dehumanized. In the case of asylum seekers and other migrants, politicians believe they will win votes by tapping into stereotypes and fears. But in the process they are diminishing our so-called civilized society and creating a climate of hatred, which could backfire.