Detention is a cage that spurs frustration

As a person who has gone through the system myself, I can attest to the deplorable living conditions in closed centres.

The portrayal of detention as a confinement zone where people have wronged the justice system is not helping integration efforts.
The portrayal of detention as a confinement zone where people have wronged the justice system is not helping integration efforts.

Thousands risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean every year in search of a better life. They wake up to the reality of tough migration and asylum laws upon arrival in Europe. It leads to shattered dreams, and a foundation rooted in hopelessness is quickly cemented.

Migrants’ detention is a heated debate, from the corridors of justice to the typical Joe walking the streets. Human rights advocates insist it is a violation of fundamental human rights, but it would be political suicide for the political class to adopt their calls.

Upon arrival, asylum seekers are not fully aware of the asylum determination process, paving the way for misconception and eventually desperation.

Unfortunately, irregular migration is mostly portrayed in the negative. Some quarters take advantage of this and use it as a scapegoat to gain ground when it comes to voters. It is often forgotten that peoples’ lives are caught up in this scuffle. The approach from both sides of the political divide would be different if merchandise, not people, were involved.

Recent events at the Hal Far detention centre brought into the limelight issues that have been boiling on the ground for some time. The infrastructure there has deteriorated, the staff cannot match the numbers, or the time taken to process asylum applications. There is a general consensus that the identities of new arrivals need to be determined and the rule of law implemented. The tussle however is about the manner in which this is done.

Upon arrival, asylum seekers are not fully aware of the asylum determination process, paving the way for misconception and eventually desperation. A case in point: most of them have no idea about the Geneva convention, which is used in the determination of their asylum applications. The government, through the Office of the Commissioner for Refugees, and NGOs in the migration field, have covered some ground when it comes to this by holding information sessions – but a lot more needs to be done.

Integration is the bridge that will close the gap between nationals and the asylum seekers. There is no clear policy in place however to facilitate this. Detention is the best place to start, since it is the first abode for asylum seekers. They can be equipped with language skills as they wait for the asylum process. This will put them in a better position with the community once they come out, and occupy their time (the devil finds work for idle minds…)

The portrayal of detention as a confinement zone where people have wronged the justice system is not helping integration efforts either. Human rights’ defenders argue that the only ‘crime’ asylum seekers have committed is leaving their homeland for various reasons. On the other hand, the authorities insist that the law is there not to allow undocumented travel and entry into the country. However both parties agree that asylum seekers upon arrival are not facing any criminal charges.

As a person who has gone through the system myself, I can attest to the deplorable living conditions in closed centres. There is mutual agreement among the different players in the migration field that a lot needs to be done to improve the situation. Congestion is the order of the day during the peak season. There is a shortfall of necessities like blankets to help in coping with severe weather changes.

Asylum seekers need to be separated according to age and legal status among other factors. This would diffuse unnecessary tensions and ensure order. Therapy and the importance it holds for migrants is not given importance, an asylum seeker who has gone through the trauma of migration needs it. And the number of professionals who can help to offer this therapy is simply not enough.

In some countries, people who are imprisoned are equipped with the technical know-how to be able to become carpenters or electricians among other jobs. I’m not saying that detention is prison, although the maximum time people can be held inside is 18 months. But providing skills to migrants in detention will reduce hopelessness while the State can tap into the human capital it generates, creating jobs and generating taxes.

It is often asked what asylum seekers are complaining about when it comes to detention. Freedom of movement is a basic human right that is enshrined in the bill of rights of every democratic state. Some countries even give it more importance compared to primary needs like food, shelter and clothing.

An African saying goes like this: Where this is smoke, there is fire. Judging by recent events there is something clearly wrong with the system. However whether something is done about it is yet to be seen. As a people we are at a junction that branches into two: taking the bull by the horns and implementing positive change, or doing nothing about it and allowing history to judge us negatively.

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