Immigration detention is often in the news. There have been reports of the death of people being deported, the physical and verbal abuse of detainees and the neglect of children with serious medical conditions in detention. The courts have also addressed cases involving immigration detention lasting several years, the detention of mentally ill immigrants and the existence of secret Government policies in relation to foreign criminals.
The media and the courts have seemed to view immigration detention through the lens of 20th Century State repression. Behind their criticism lies the image of the State that kills, tortures and arbitrarily detains.
Clearly, it is important to prevent such instances of excessive State power. However, this lens can distort our view of immigration detention. It results in a focus on extreme cases, often involving violence of some form towards migrants.
The conditions in the UK’s immigration detention centres are far removed from those found in 20th century totalitarian regimes. The facilities of one prominent centre, Harmondsworth, include a library, a gymnasium and courses including arts and crafts. Hardly comparable to detention in a dictatorship.