On Friday, May 5th, Dr. Sarah Turnbull from the School of Law at Birkbeck, University of London, gave a seminar on deported migrants. The title of the seminar was “Researching Life After Deportation From The United Kingdom” and her findings were based on empirical evidence Dr. Turnbull obtained through in-detention fieldwork at four Immigration Removal Centres (IRC’s) and post-detention correspondence with migrants after their removal from the UK.  Her presentation focused on the traumatic experiences that people who are no longer legally residing in the UK go through. Thanks to follow-up interviews and correspondence after deportation, her research shines a light on what happens during and after detention, including people’s experiences of reintegration. 

According to Dr. Turnbull, immigration detention and deportation are two interconnected practices that form part of the country’s response to managing unwanted migration, to controlling borders, and to reasserting sovereign power.  The rationale of deportation is to restore the displaced, out-of-place people to their ‘natural’ place of life, their ‘home- land’ (Khosravi 2016: 172).  Deportation devastates people, families, and whole communities. Unauthorised migrants and failed asylum seekers live in constant fear of deportation. They know that any possible contact with UK immigration officers can put them behind bars and in removal proceedings. More obvious, of course, is the impact that deportation has on people and their loved ones. One of her correspondents writes: now I don’t have a place to live […] oh my God to be honest Sarah if life is going to treat me like this I better commit suicide, I dint want to live in this world like this

During her presentation, Dr. Turnbull also explained that the experiences of immigration detention and deportation shape and reshape detainees’ sense of identity, and where or what ‘home’ is for them.

Dr. Turnbull’s introduced her informants, most of whom were male and most returned to their home countries in regions of Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia, while one was sent to Italy under the Dublin III Regulation. Most informants were either failed asylum seekers, had expired documents (visas) through over-staying, or were working illegally, but one was deported due to criminal offending. All were deported directly from immigration detention.  Detention is an important mechanism through which deportation can be more easily executed: the containment of immigrants identified for expulsion within secured buildings makes it easier for private security guards, as contractors are commonly used for this task, to escort them to the airport and put them on the airplane. Although deportation procedures must follow government guidelines and international law in order to minimise harm to both parties, existing research reveals that deportation carries long-term issues.

While some migrants are able to use foreign-earned money and transnational networks to improve their post-deportation outcomes (Golash-Boza 2016), many suffer from impoverishment and financial hardship, displacement and loss of identity, cultural estrangement and psychological distress, stigmatisation and may consequently resort to law-breaking behaviour. 

Dr. Turnbull’s presentation was based on a forthcoming chapter in a collection edited by Sharham Khosravi on ethnographic perspectives on life after deportation. She hopes to continue her research on deportation and to further reveal the appalling outcomes of this practice.