I hope you don’t mind the informal greeting, as I’ve never had the opportunity to meet you, but I believe in a level playing field when it comes to communication and I find that titles can get in the way of that. I also wanted to use your first name, because it is somehow more human and I want to appeal to you as a fellow human being, before addressing you as our current home secretary. There is a very high probability that you will never read this, so I thought I would write it as an open letter to engage others in a vital conversation.
The reason for my letter is to appeal to you on behalf of the hundreds of people you are currently detaining in any one of the 11 Detention (Immigration Removal) Centres located throughout the UK. There have been several reports of the dreadful treatment of fellow human beings, people we call our brothers and sisters, in this wide and varied family of humanity. Even your chief inspector of prisons calls the conditions ‘appalling’. Many of these people have been victims of torture and abuse from which they have fled only to be treated in a simply disgusting way in this nation. You are even detaining pregnant women and children (141 children that are known of in the last 5 years). These beautiful human beings are treated in an altogether sub-human way.
Georgio Agamben writes of the ‘State of Exception’. I’m sure you are aware of his writings, but if not, this ‘state of exception’ describes how a human being can be both simultaneously bound and abandoned to law. It reveals what really undergirds a nation; that which we are willing to put aside to maintain the status quo. The detention of people in this way reveals a vile underbelly and a rotten foundation to this nation state. These detention centres are our very own example of Guantanamo Bay, where people are held without hope of a fair trial, justice or human kindness. Essentially, by keeping people who are deemed to have failed in seeking asylum in these detention centres, you “erase any legal status of the individual, thus producing a legally unnamable and unclassifiable being.” (Agamben, State of Exception p7). To treat any person who does in fact have a name and a face in such a manner, is altogether inhumane and utterly wrong.
In our house, we try to live with the following kind of philosophy:
As home/house secretary, I wonder if you think the home/house we are creating in this land is reflected in these removal centres? I know you will argue that this land isn’t their home, which is why we are sending them back to their country of origin (which I doubt they could really call home or they would not have fled it). But there is something so very wrong about how you are allowing them to be treated. You know fine well from serious case reviews that terrible errors have been made in sending people back to their country of origin, leading for example to the death of a lesbian woman in Uganda. You know there have been and continue to be atrocious abuses of basic human rights in these detention centres. You know that people are being denied access to vital medical treatment (www.medicaljustice.org.uk). You know that at least one person has been unlawfully killed at the hands of your profit making making friends, G4S, who run these centres for you. Yet you are allowing it to continue. Theresa, how is this loving? How is it kind? How is it human?
I am sure your job is filled with complications and difficult decisions, and I am sure that there are some who may well need deporting to another land, but do not let the office you hold become separate from your humanity. I appeal to you as a fellow human and I appeal to you as the home secretary to do an urgent review of these centres.
I would like to suggest the following:
1) Please would you spend a day in each of detention centres and simply hear the stories of those you are detaining there. Then please look them in the eye and justify your decision to allow them to be treated as sub-human.
2) Please remove G4S from the management of the detention centres, as they have demonstrated a recurrent lack of love or concern for human welfare.
3) Please consider that detention centres could be managed instead by asylum charities, who have a far better understanding of the needs of those they would be caring for and can ensure that they are given appropriate access to legal help and medical intervention. This can be backed up with security if needed, but by changing the environment and approach of how we ‘detain’ people, I imagine we will have less security issues.
Thank you for taking the issues of human love and justice seriously,
Yours most sincerely