Across the globe, the detention of migrants is higher than ever. In detention centres all over the world prisoners- including children- are being held for months on end without charge. But in the case of English speaking nations; namely Britain, Australia and the US, prisoners are being held indefinitely. English speaking countries are also the world’s most fervent detainers with almost 30,000 non-citizens being locked up every year in the UK alone. But how much is all this incarceration costing Britain?
The UK Government does not like to disclose information about the price of immigration but, in 2010, it was reported that the average overall cost of one bed per day in an immigration detention centre was £120. Over one year, that’s over £9 million to keep one detention centre running.
So what is it like inside? You’d think they have en suite bathrooms for that kind of cost. Studies have shown that around 85% of detainees suffer from clinical depression; the figure increasing the longer they are held. Some 1800 prisoners were on self-harm watch in Britain in 2012 with cutting, asphyxiation and head banging being common occurrences in detention centres across the globe. This means that disproportionate amounts of money are spent on anti-depressants to pacify detainees, some of them children. According to the New Internationalist, alternatives to custodial detention such as electronic tagging, community management and open family units are both more humane and much cheaper ways of detaining migrants. So why are we locking up more immigrants every year?
One seemingly obvious reason is to deter migration, but UNHCR’s Alice Edwards states that ‘as detention has increased, the number of people seeking to enter…has also risen.’ According to various newspapers, the Prime Minister has recently suppressed a report on EU migration after it found overwhelming evidence that immigration has been good for the British economy. By not capping the amount of migrants coming into the country, some will remain in detention indefinitely, and some will be deported back home, but some will provide cheap labour. ‘Because [immigrants] are more likely to be working age, they’re more likely to be paying taxes and less likely to have relatively large sums of money spent on them for education, for long-term care, for healthcare’ says OBR chairman Robert Chote. With the new Immigration Bill designed to end free health care for all migrants in detention, it’s no wonder that Cameron doesn’t want to put a cap on the number of migrants coming into the country. Especially when those who can work will provide cheaper labour and demand less in return.
In recent years detention centres have fuelled public response about the harm migrants pose to society, and asylum seekers are widely believed to be an undeserving group of people draining public spending. After all, Britain is no Promised Land, nor is it a pot of honey with endless resources. But, as a developed, democratic and multi-cultural society, surely we shouldn’t be exploiting the influx of vulnerable people seeking asylum and a better life.