ثمة سوء فهم يعتري معنى “مراكز الاحتجاز” بصفة خاصة لا سيما في بريطانيا وطالبي اللجوء بصفة عامة. فشلت المعاجم بإعطاء تعريفاً وافياً للمعنى المناط بهما إلاّ أنّ موقع “آمنستي إنترناشونال” يعطي تعريفاً لطالب اللجوء واللاجيء. فطالب اللجوء يسعى إلى حماية دَوْلية إثر تعرضه للأذى في دولته الأم حتى يصبح لاجئاً في الدولة المضيفة وليس سجيناً في مراكز الاحتجاز التي تؤويه! وحين نعرف جيداً معنى المصطلحين نستطيع آنئذٍ التفكير بالإنسان.
إحدى أهم الجوانب غير العادلة لمراكز الاحتجاز في إنگلترا أنّ احتجاز طالبي اللجوء غير محدد بزمن معيّن مما أثار انتقاد مجلس الأمم المتحدة لحقوق الإنسان لبريطانيا
The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines “detention centre” as “an institution where people, in particular refugees and people awaiting trial, are detained for short periods”.
The definition is inaccurate, partly because the term “asylum seeker” is missing from it, and in the UK asylum seekers comprise most of the captives in detention centres. Sloppy use of language leads to generalisations which are misleading and give rise to muddled thinking, prejudice, and presumption of guilt although there is no proof of crime.
On its website, Amnesty International defines an asylum seeker as one seeking international protection, and whose claim has not yet been decided by the country in which he or she had submitted it. If the host country officially recognises the asylum seeker has a well-founded fear of persecution in the country of origin, and ought therefore to be allowed to stay in the host country, then the claimant should qualify as a refugee.
Another flaw in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary’s definition is the glib reference to “people awaiting trial”. Anyone awaiting trial ought to be remanded on bail or in custody. Asylum seekers in detention centres are not necessarily awaiting trial; in fact there is no question of a trial unless they are suspected of a crime, and not all asylum seekers are criminals or even suspects.
A detention centre is an institution where asylum seekers are locked up, so is in a way a prison. However, a convicted criminal in prison knows his or her rights, and the maximum length of time he or she will have to serve. Detained asylum seekers are not so lucky, and do not know how long they are going to be incarcerated.
The Independent newspaper reports the findings of Hindpal Singh Bhui, an Inspection Team Leader at HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP), who heads inspection of immigration detention centres in the UK. He says that detention inmates have committed no specific criminal offences. Some of them are trying to enter the country to make a better life for themselves and their families. This means they are migrants, not criminals.
His inquiry reveals that the Home Office has failed to produce improvement plans demanded for 16 of its centres. There is a suspicion that the Home Office drags out the procedures for dealing with claims because it hopes migrants and asylum seekers will leave the UK, rather than endure detention for weeks or months. Twenty-three people were locked up for more than a year at one centre.
The UN Human Rights Council criticises Britain for being the only EU country without a statutory time limit for the detention of asylum seekers. The uncertainty demoralises and depresses the victims, and has led to suicides.
Reforms of the Home Office are overdue. Detention centre should be redesignated as hostels, safe places where residents (to call them inmates is pejorative) can come and go as they please. Guards should be trained to become accommodation and recruitment experts to help residents find work and homes of their own, so they can leave the hostels and become independent, and newcomers can move in until they too achieve independence.
We have not reached Utopia, though, and it is doubtful if we ever will.
Concise Oxford English Dictionary