Archive for the ‘asylum’ Category

Incarceration, disavowal and Ireland’s prison industrial complex

Incarceration, disavowal and Ireland’s prison industrial complex

Paper presented at the ‘Irish Prisons: incarceration, repression and control’ conference, Crumlin Road Gaol, Belfast 26-27 October 2017.

Introduction

In September 2014 residents of several asylum centres in Ireland staged protests against their incarceration. Since April 2000 asylum seekers have been dispersed to ‘Direct Provision’ centres, managed by private for-profit companies under the supervision of the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA), an arm of the Department of Justice and Equality, costing the state around 50 million euro per annum. Residents, who get bed and board, are not allowed to work or access third level education, and until August 2017 were given a small weekly ‘residual income maintenance payment to cover personal requisites’ of €19.10 per adult and €9.60 per child, increased to €21.60 per adult and first to €15.60 and then to €21.60 per child per week (Bardon 2017). Steven Loyal (2011) describes the Direct Provision centres as Goffman’s (1991[1961]) ‘total institutions’, where residents are controlled as to what and when they eat, who they share rooms with, who can visit them, and what access they have to crèches, laundries, kitchen facilities and appliances, and argues that ‘the negatively socially valued category of “asylum-seeker” becomes their master status.’

Although the Direct Provision system was originally intended for no more than a six months stay, 19.5 per cent have stayed for over three years. The average length of stay was 38 months while 450 people had been living in Direct Provision for more than seven years, leading to people becoming de-skilled, bored, depressed, destitute, and institutionalised. By September 2017, there were 5,063 people in Direct Provision centres. Seven of the centres are State-owned, the others are operated by for profit companies (Gartland, 2016) – making the Direct Provision system part of what Angela Davis term the ‘prison industrial complex’.

Many asylum seekers live with deportation orders in a state of deportability (Lentin and Moreo 2015), arguably making them what the Italian political philosopher Giorgio Agamben (1995) calls ‘bare life’, at the mercy of the laws of the sovereign state, which exempts itself from these very laws. And as Eithne Luibhéid (2013: 91) argues, ‘Direct Provision institutionalized the construct of the “asylum-seeker” as a distinct, undesirable type of person who must be subjected to relations of governance that were intended to deter, control, and incapacitate’.

The Direct Provision protesters demanded that all asylum centres be closed, that all residents be given the right to remain and work in Ireland, and that all deportations end. These demands are articulated by MASI, the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland, a platform for asylum seekers to join together in unity and purpose.

In October 2014, apparently in response to these protests, the government appointed a working group ‘to report to Government on improvements to the protection process, including Direct Provision and supports to asylum seekers.’ The Working Group was made up of representatives of migrant-support NGOs but had no significant representation of asylum seekers themselves. While the then deputy Justice Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin admitted that the Direct Provision system is ‘inhumane’, and that ‘the way we treat asylum seekers and people in the (Direct Provision) system says a lot about us as a country’, the Working Group was charged with reforming rather than closing the Direct Provision system (The Journal 2014).

The Working Group’s recommendations were largely not adopted by the government (although the Minister for Justice said in October at the Senead that 98 per cent were adopted), and the Direct Provision system remains in place. However, in 2016 the government increased the ‘comfort allowance’ paid to asylum seekers in Direct Provision centres by an insulting amount. In 2016 the government introduced the International Protection Act based on a Single Application Procedure. The new act raises serious concerns in relation to firstly, the erosion of refugee families’ reunification rights; secondly, the impact on the applicants already in the asylum process in relation to the availability of appropriate legal advice and sufficient time and resources to shorten the waiting time; and thirdly, the ease with which deportations could be effected. In May 2017 the Supreme Court unanimously agreed that the absolute ban on asylum seekers working was unconstitutional (Carolan 2017), and in October 2017 the Minister for Justice announced the intention to give asylum seekers in Ireland the right to work after six months in Direct Provision, a problematic announcement as very few details have been worked out. Lucky Khambule will elaborate on these developments.

Against this background, this paper makes three interlinked propositions. Firstly, I propose that as Irish state and society managed to ignore Ireland’s system of ‘coercive confinement’: workhouses, mental health asylums, mother and baby homes, Magdalene Laundries and industrial schools (O’Sullivan and O’Donnell 2012), they also ‘manage not to know’ about the plight of asylum seekers in Direct Provision. The Direct Provision system isolates asylum applicants, makes them dependent on state handouts and carceral rules, and makes it difficult for them to organize on a national level. ‘Managing not to know,’ or disavowing, erases the Direct Provision system from Ireland’s collective consciousness, but I suggest that asylum seekers signify the return of Ireland’s repressed, confronting Irish people, themselves e/migrants par excellence.

Secondly, I propose that we must not theorize residents of the Direct Provision system as passive victims at the mercy of sovereign power, to whom everything is done, but rather as active agents of resistance.

Thirdly, and more broadly, the incarceration of asylum seekers must be seen as continuing the tradition of administrative detention of political prisoners in the north of Ireland and of the widespread Irish practice of incarceration. I therefore theorize the Direct Provision system as the current embodiment of the island of Ireland as two parallel carceral states, where the prison industrial complex has historically incarcerated one in every hundred people in the Republic and administratively detained political prisoners in the north. I conclude, following Angela Davis, by calling for the total abolition of imprisonment and incarceration. Read the rest of this entry »

Europe’s ‘refugee crisis’: Still not letting them in…

refugees-nazisLouis Lentin’s documentary ‘No More Blooms’ was broadcast on RTE on International Human Rights Day, 10 December 1997. Based on scrupulous archival research, the film documented Ireland’s consistent refusal to give refuge to more than 60 Jewish people fleeing Nazism between 1933 and 1946. Prior to the screening, Lentin told The Irish Times, ‘If you had been told in 1939 that when the war started, the policy of genocide would be implemented, would you have believed it?’ However, and although neutral Ireland was not unique in closing its borders, as the war progressed, and despite the Irish population being shielded by strict state censorship from knowledge about the excesses of the Nazi extermination programme, it became apparent that Jewish (and Roma) people were being systematically annihilated. Yet, even after the war, when the Irish Jewish community applied to allow 100 Jewish orphans into Ireland, permission was given only providing the Jewish community look after the children, and providing they left the country after one year stay in Clonyn Castle in County Westmeath.

‘No More Blooms’ and the history of Ireland’s miserable treatment of refugees since World War II (‘Europe’s darkest hour’) is hugely pertinent today as we watch the march of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Sudan and elsewhere in the Global South towards the southern and eastern edges of Fortress Europe. The tide, it seems, cannot be stemmed, as resilient and strong willed refugees crawl under barbed wire fences, and wash off onto the southern shores of the Mediterranean having taken rickety boats to freedom.

For the time being the refugees’ march to freedom is big news. The European media and social media are full of the viral photograph of Aylan Kurdi, the drowned three year old Kurdish toddler lying face down on the shores of Turkey, and of endless YouTube videos of refugees arriving on makeshift boats in Italy and Greece, and breaking through makeshift fences along the Hungarian and Bulgarian borders. News stories tell of heart felt responses by Europeans demonstrating and collecting goods for refugees trapped in Calais. Others report on some European leaders calling on EU states to share the burden and on Europe’s southern citizens giving assistance, and even homes to the refugees. However, the key motif is ‘Europe’s refugee crisis’ and the key discussion point is whether the fortress can cope with what is seen as the onslaught. Solutions such as the mayor of Barcelona calling to establish ‘refuge cities’ or the provision of accommodation places for fleeing refugees, while welcome, are all inadequate partial responses that does not recognise that the days of Fortress Europe are numbered.

Like during the Nazi era, when Germans and other Europeans chose not to know about the Nazi extermination plans, today most Europeans prefer to defend Europe’s white, Christian identity and keep the fortress intact. Responses range from asking Israel about the high-technology anti-refugee fence on its border with Egypt, to talking about quotas, as Europe is intent on maintaining its white supremacy illusion and speaking about ‘these people’ as a problem to be solved at best, and as a threat at worst. In view of Ireland’s laughable offer to admit 600 Syrians, RTE should re-broadcast ‘No More Blooms’ as a reminder of our moral responsibility to the millions fleeing refugees. It would remind the Irish and their government of the futility of pretending that Fortress Europe can remain intact.

We asked for workers and people came

irish-navy-migrantsLast week we have again helplessly watched people drowning in the Mediterranean as they attempt to cross the sea to the safety of Europe. Migration NGOs say that more than 2,000 migrants and refugees have died in 2015 so far. However, the very use of the term ‘migrants’ by European governments and NGOs dehumanises their tragedy, occluding the fact that what the Italian-Jewish writer Primo Levi, speaking of Holocaust victims and survivors, called ‘the drowned and the saved’, are human beings, just like us. In 1972, during the migration of ‘guest workers’ to western Europe, the Swiss writer Max Frisch, whose work focused on issues of responsibility, morality, and political commitment, unforgettably wrote in response to the ‘guest workers’ controversy: ‘we asked for workers and human beings came’. Migrant workers, Frisch insisted, have lives, families, hopes and dreams, just like the citizens of the states they come to live in – an insight too easily lost in the current debates on migrants and refugees.

The people desperately trying to gain entry to Western Europe, be it through the fenced border between Hungary and Serbia, the Channel tunnel between France and Britain, or on rickety boats crossing the Mediterranean from Africa to southern Europe, are fleeing disasters – such as the catastrophic wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea and Sudan, or the dire poverty of African countries - all created or supported by the west. Lest we forget, these humans are fleeing because they want to feel safe and give their children a future, yet, although seeking asylum is totally legal, they are often criminalised by the European migration regime. Read the rest of this entry »

Immigrant Council of Ireland fighting ‘trafficking’ enforcing border controls

The Immigrant Council of Ireland, a supposedly ‘migrant-support’ NGO, has just announced a new initiative to combat ‘human trafficking’ and ‘sham marriages’. Together with the Department of Justice’s Anti-Trafficking Unit, the ICI joins poorer EU states Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Slovakia in an EU funded research on ‘the issue of human trafficking for the purpose of sham marriage’.

NGOs such as the ICI have been problematic for a long time now. Purporting to support migrants, it has no problem in joining forces with the government in researching, publishing reports and initiating policies the aim of which is ultimately (in the ICI’s own words) to ‘regulate’, ‘mainstream’ and ‘control’ migration into Ireland, and to ‘integrate’ those migrants permitted to remain.

A ‘sham’ or ‘fake’ marriage is defined as a ‘marriage of convenience’ entered into for the purpose of gaining a benefit, in this case leave to remain for a non EU national in an EU state. In many cases it’s the only way for an asylum seeker or migrant, otherwise deemed ‘illegal’, to enter and remain in a western state. I remember finding photographs in my father’s collection of a woman we didn’t know, only to discover that while studying in a Prague university, he married a local Jewish woman so as to save her from remaining in Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia as it was then called. Upon arrival in Palestine a quick divorce was arranged, but father kept the woman’s photograph, knowing that had he not married her – in a ‘sham marriage’ as it would now be called – she would have been sent to the Nazi camps.

I do admit that there are many ruthless gangs of traffickers who force women and children into sex slavery (in India, for example, 60,000 children are abducted each year for sex slavery), but this is a completely different issue. My unstinted support for the ICI’s Stop the Red Light campaign against the exploitation of women and children in Ireland’s sex industry has changed somewhat recently. While I definitely do not support men’s god given right to have sex whenever and however they please, or criminal gangs making billions from trafficking children and women for sex purposes, we need to differentiate between this and the erroneous assumption that all women brought to Ireland by so called ‘traffickers’ are victims, as claimed by EUROPOL, the Department of Justice, and by NGOs such as the ICI. Most asylum seekers need smugglers to get them to safety, and using smugglers is often the only way these women migrants – as free and active agents – can find their way out of oppression and misery.

The Immigrant Council of Ireland is funded by the EU to join forces with the Irish government that still incarcerates thousands of asylum seekers in direct provision and stops many others from presenting their asylum applications. This shameless collaboration will result in further controlling Fortress Europe’s policed borders, the consequences of which we have all witnessed recently in the drowning of hundreds of migrants escaping the horrors of Syria, Afghanistan and Africa in the Mediterranean.

CERD - not much use in fighting racism

migrant-boatsOn May 18 the Maynooth University Department of Applied Social Studies is hosting a conference celebrating 50 years to the adoption of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). Despite the initial good intentions, CERD has brought about no reduction in racism and racial discrimination. With the global north continuing to wage wars against the global south, whole societies, from Somalia to Afghanistan, from Iraq to Sudan, from Syria to Ukraine, from Palestine to Congo, have been destroyed, producing millions of refugees. Meanwhile, in the global north CERD has done nothing to stop lethal police brutality against black and minority populations, the detention of asylum seekers and the ongoing discrimination against indigenous people.

And what about Ireland? Already in 2004, in response to criticism by CERD regarding its treatment of Travellers and asylum seekers, the Irish government insisted it had no intention of discontinuing its system of dispersal and direct provision which, it said, ‘forms a key part of government policy in relation to the asylum process’. Direct Provision, run by for-profit private companies, incarcerates asylum seekers, many living with hanging deportation orders, not allowed to work, access third level education, or cook their own food, living in limbo, hidden from public view. Despite the obvious infringements of the rights and the everyday racism experiences of asylum seekers’, Travellers’ and other racialised people, the then Justice Minister Michael McDowell responded to CERD by claiming that Ireland ‘has no serious racism problem’ and that it was ‘leading the antiracism struggle in Europe’. Read the rest of this entry »

11/18/2017 Migrant Activism and Integration from Below in Ireland

Edited by Ronit Lentin and Elena Moreo Palgrave MacMillan, 2012...read more
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