Post by Alice Gerlach, a doctoral student at the University of Oxford, who is working on how immigration removal centres in the UK prepare detainees for release or removal. You can follow her on Twitter @AliceGerlach.
‘Dignified’ is not a word most people would use in a description of immigration removal centre conditions. The concept of dignity has played an important part in the reform of penal estates the world over and sustained efforts are made to balance the security of prisons with the dignity of inmates, but this doesn’t appear to be the case in immigration removal centres. Take as a poignant example the case of Alois Dvorzac, an 84 year-old Canadian man. Dvorzac was detained in the UK when trying to pass through Gatwick airport en-route to Slovenia without the correct permission to do so. Dvorzac was suffering from Alzheimer’s and from all accounts confused and vulnerable. He died three weeks later, still in detention, after spending five hours handcuffed to his hospital bed.
This is an extreme case, and thankfully one that attracted plenty of media attention and outrage from the public. However, it's not an example that stands alone, with research on experiences of detention in the UK suggesting violations of dignity are common. Scholars on dignity violations have shown that prolonged violations of dignity, particularly in a secure environment, can lead to serious long-term social, physical, and mental health problems. Similarly, prolonged detention of immigration detainees has been linked to long-term social, physical, and mental health problems. To me, this suggests that violations of dignity suffered during the process of immigration detention and removal may have a relationship with the problems suffered by former detainees.
Dignity as a concept is not a simple one and there are complexities applying a concept clearly influenced by cultural difference to such a multicultural environment as the immigration removal centre. However, the literature on dignity is extensive, and treating individuals with dignity has been shown to improve the lives of individuals in other contexts. So, even with the complexities and caveats that may be involved, if there's a possibility that treating individuals with dignity can go someway to improving the conditions and outcomes for people held in immigration detention I believe it is something worth thinking about.
How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):
Gerlach, A. (2014) Thinking about Dignity and Immigration Detention. Available at: http://bordercriminologies.law.ox.ac.uk/thinking-about-dignity/ (accessed [date]).