Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Torturing Immigrants


Ever anxious to find ways to apply more pressure to immigrants, to keep the flow of cheap labour sufficient but also to keep them in a sufficiently precarious state that they don't get ideas about their entitlements, politicians are trying tougher new schemes. In the US, they're bragging that if you toss them prison for a while, 'illegal' Mexican labourers won't be so keen to have their little protests or get organised and run unions. In Britain, well, we do things differently. What we do is find those immigrants who are most vulnerable - those seeking asylum - break up their families, toss the men in 'detention centres' (privatised jails) and then throw them back to the misery they were trying to escape. Liam Byrne, the ultra-reactionary Home Office minister, is now warning that if your folks come to visit and stay too long, you might end up in the slammer.

And we have some rather primitive technologies for disciplining recalcitrantly mobile flesh, such as outsourced GBH [pdf]. While most of the abuse described in the linked report is casual violence inflicted by immigration officers at airports, often accompanied by racist abuse ("black bitch", "black monkey, go back to your own country"), there is some alarming evidence of high-octane battery being inflicted by officials at all levels, including in the detention centres run by private security forces. Bruised and swollen faces, fractures to the ankles and ribs, a leg that had to be plastered. Among the victims are women and children, and sometimes the whole family can look forward to a beating. One of the most telling instances is where officers administer violence to subdue someone who is being illegitimately removed. In other words, people are being detained and deported when they have representations being made or are legally present in the country. That violence is occurring because of the government's fanatical drive to deter asylum seekers in particular - Liam Byrne boasts that an immigrant is being deported every eight minutes. Still, as the report makes clear at several points, the government has a track record of paying absolutely zero attention to such problems, preferring to deny that they exist in the first place. In fact, if I may be uncharacteristically cynical for a moment, I strongly suspect that the government might actually prefer this state of affairs. Let the rough boys kick the immigrants around, make sure they know who's boss and what their status is, get the asylum numbers down and maybe one day the Daily Mail will make its peace with New Labour.

To persist with this unbecoming dubiety, I also can't help but notice the vast gulf between the alleged humanitarian concern that motivates the deployment of billion-dollar war machines and the vicious and hateful rhetoric and treatment of refugees. I can't help but notice it because everytime the government is thinking about bombing somewhere, you will find its ministers 'cracking down' on those who happen to be from that somewhere: Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe... "Tortured and emaciated? Bollocks, all I see is a very thin man. Put him on the plane. Next?" The most shameful example of this turned Jack Straw into a Saddam apologist, but it's pretty routine.