Theresa May’s Attempts to Dehumanise the Most Vulnerable

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As the refugee crisis was building from crisis to crisis, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, signed an agreement towards the end of August on behalf of the British government with the government of France to introduce new measures, including an Anglo-French “control and command” centre, to prevent refugees and asylum seekers reaching Britain from France. May is quoted as saying that the British and French police will “relentlessly pursue” what were referred to as people-smuggling gangs, in yet another effort to criminalise the global refugee crisis that has been created by Britain and the other big powers. May announced more police and other security measures would also be implemented and added that she was aware that such measures in France were likely to force the vulnerable to seek refuge in other EU countries.

May’s visit to France was organised so that she would not meet anyone seeking refuge or asylum, while for their part the refugees in Calais organised a demonstration and are

reported to
Protest at Yarl’s Wood detention centre

have chanted “we are not animals”, and “open the borders”. French police are said to have dispersed the demonstration with tear gas. The actions of the government in Britain appear to be designed both to criminalise those seeking refuge and to force EU countries other than Britain to deal with the refugee crisis. At the same time as the Anglo-French agreement was signed the German interior minster announced that Germany was preparing to accommodate some 800,000 asylum seekers by the end of 2015. Commentators have pointed out that many other countries in Europe accommodate many more refugees and asylum seekers than Britain does, as do countries such as Turkey and Lebanon. Even Greece with all its economic problems has dealt with over 120,000 migrants and refugees this year.

The Cameron government not only attempts to criminalise those seeking refuge or entering Britain without papers, it also treats thousands that do arrive as criminals. The recent Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales (HMCIP), Nick Hardwick, presents a damning indictment of the government’s use of what

are referred to as
Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs), in effect prisons/detention centres for some 3,500 people who have entered the country unofficially, or without papers, as well as those who are awaiting judgement on asylum application, or who are awaiting deportation.

In fact last year only 53% of those detained were subsequently deported from Britain, and according to the report facilities were totally insufficient to prepare those detained for release or for return to their countries of origin. HMCIP drew particular attention to the government’s policy of using the centres for indefinite detention of inmates, a practice that the government frowns upon in other countries and which can be seen as a form of torture. HMICP stated: “The detrimental impact of this policy on a detainee’s mental state and family life cannot be adequately quantified, and it is noteworthy that Britain remains one of very few countries that continue to use indefinite detention.”

HMCIP also reported that those detained were denied appropriate legal and medical facilities and denied access to social media and Skype, so were unable to contact family or friends. The Report stated that in some cases “security was disproportionate”, referring to a “prison-like environment” in some IRCs and an “oppressive” regime in one. The report also drew attention to the particularly repressive and inhuman conditions facing women and children in detention centres and noted that the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women had been denied access to the notorious Yarl’s Wood IRC earlier this year. That facility was the subject of another damning report also published earlier in the year. In that document
HMCIP again drew attention to the fact that over 50% of the women detained were subsequently released into the community. This, it added “raised questions about the validity of their detention in the first place”. It also highlighted the fact that the Home Office had broken its own guidelines by detaining nearly 100 pregnant women, only a few of whom had subsequently been deported. The report concluded, “Yarl’s Wood is rightly a place of national concern.”

In fact, the recent escalation in the scale of the crisis has proved, if proof were needed, that the government’s entire approach to refugees, migrants and asylum seekers is a matter of serious national concern. It is an approach that is illustrated by Cameron’s statement about “swarms” of migrants and preventing people “breaking in to Britain”. It is exemplified by the government’s willingness to spend millions of pounds on security measures in Calais, which for centuries has been part of France not Britain. Even the Mayor of Calais accused David Cameron of treating the region with contempt.

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