Immigration Prisons: profiting from Human Rights violations

Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh on

Imagine a community of four hundred people, neglected in a boiling hot filthy cage, still traumatised by the terrifying sound of waves ringing in their ears (Boochani 2018, p.126)…….at any moment someone may slash their wrists with one of those razors ….self- harm is a regular occurrence ( Boochani 2018, p.170)

….we are hostages – we are being made examples to strike fear into others, to scare people so they won’t come to Australia.” (Boochani 2018, p.107)

Behrouz Boochani texting from his mobile phone from Australia’s detention prison on Manus Island.

Chances are you would have heard of Refugee Prisons: places of psycho-social destruction that not only incarcerate immigrant children and their families, but subject them to the legalized infliction of pain and torture associated with such deprivation of liberty;

The criminalization of thousands by virtue of their status as illegal immigrants; a status not inherent in their acts, but one conferred upon them by their host State; As the sociologist Howard Becker wrote:

”deviance is not a quality of the act the person commits, but rather a consequence of the application of rules and sanctions to an “offender.” (Becker 1963)

A necessary evil say some, since the flooding of our borders by Covid infested Children (not our children!) and their impoverished parents fleeing violence ridden countries poses a national security threat;

a threat incarnate in infants and unaccompanied minors from El Salvador, Honduras, Syria and Afghanistan among others; ‘terrorists’ and ‘drug traffickers’, which lawmakers and border police constantly remind us to be wary of….

Yet to the populist autocrats and ethnocentric nationalists keen on protecting the cultural, social and religious exclusivism of their societies by stoking hatred against minorities there appears to be a ‘silver lining’ to this ‘scourge of wretched illegal migrants’ crossing the borders of their Sovereign States;

It lies in the legalized but shameful profiteering of human rights violations;

An exploitation of the depths of human misery, despair and vulnerability suffered by refugees through the subcontracting of the illegal immigrant prison industry by Governments to private businesses claiming a stake in a multibillion dollar industry–

one that Norwegian Criminologist, Nils Christie terms, the ‘Crime Control Industry,’ operating within a ‘crime control market …..waiting for its entrepreneurs.’ ( Christie 2017, p.11).

Such novel ways of criminalizing non-violent individuals are constantly conceived by Politicians and their entrepreneurial stakeholders in search of lucrative profit reaped by justice systems, —

conscious of ‘an unlimited reservoir of acts which can be defined as crimes;’, creating ‘unlimited possibilities for warfare against all sorts of unwanted acts.‘ (Christie 2017, p.11).

This ‘warfare’ that Christie writes about is increasingly directed against those marginalized, forgotten human beings that policy makers continue to dehumanize and depersonalize through legislative means.

As Christie famously wrote:

“Acts are not, they become. So also with crime. Crime does not exist. Crime is created .

First there are acts. Then follows a long process of giving meaning to these acts.

Social distance is of particular importance. Distance increases the tendency to give certain acts the meaning of being crimes, , and the persons the simplified meaning of being criminals. ( Christie 2017, pp. 10-. 11)

It therefore comes as no surprise that we do not throw our own children into chain-link cages when they infuriate us, nor do we feel inclined to separate families of those whom we love when they transgress our most cherished values….

Such actions would be unthinkable, yet reserved for those whom we know little or nothing about, for whom we feel no empathy:

Ethnical and racial minorities from far flung lands and strange cultures, stateless individuals whom we feel little or no moral or legal obligation to protect;

lesser mortals whom our detached functionaries of State can feel dispassionate about criminalizing…..

Our conscience assuaged by the thought that this is a people whom we are not bound to by intimate ties of family, community and kinship…….

Such is the insidious effect of social, emotional and physical distancing on our sensibilities and psyche;

a desensitization to the mass incarceration and invisibilization of migrants at the hands of border officials.

an uncritical acceptance of immigration laws devoid of moral, ethical values that respect the dignity of the human being.

Nothing more than a streamlined bureaucratic delivery of pain in exchange for profit…..

Consider the Migration Policy Institute’s assessment of the immigrant prison industry in the US:

‘The largest private prison contractors reap sizeable annual profits from detaining immigrants, including those identified for removal, asylum seekers and others awaiting a hearing in immigration court, and those in the process of being deported.

CoreCivic, Inc. and GEO Group, Inc.—which collectively manage more than half of private prison contracts in the country (including immigration and nonimmigration detention)—earned combined revenue exceeding $4 billion in FY 2017.

They have spent millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions, seeking to sway the political process toward detention-focused policies that favor their interests—a tactic that appears to be paying off in the Trump era.”

Profiting from Enforcement: The Role of Private Prisons in U.S. Immigration Detention |

Such an immensely lucrative prison industry is legitimated by the feverish rhetoric of ideological Right politicians of both Western liberal democracies as well as Asian States;

A vitriolic rhetoric of hate, ceaselessly spewing the mind numbing mantra that the presence of illegal immigrants inexorably upends the social, moral and religious fabric of society;

an empirically baseless narrative, grounded in political machinations calculated to stoke waves of moral panics among the media and the public,–

justifying disproportionate legal action in the form of further criminalization of nearly every aspect of human life…….

César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, a law professor and author argues:

Fears that migrants will endanger the public are similarly flimsy.

First, reams of evidence show that migrants aren’t any more dangerous than people born in the United States.

Second, coming to the United States to request asylum, as many people locked up by ICE have done, doesn’t suggest a willingness to commit crime.”

Opinion | Abolish Immigration Prisons – The New York Times (

Rather, the stereotyping of, for instance, Mexican and South Americans of low education arriving at the US borders ‘through unauthorized channels’ and overstaying ‘reinforces the impression that immigration and criminality are linked. 0271354.indd (

And yet, empirical data reveals otherwise;

The research of Professors Rubén G. Rumbaut, Ph.D. and Walter A. Ewing, Ph.D. indicate:

”…… from the census and other sources show that for every ethnic group without exception, incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants, even those who are the least educated.

This holds true especially for the Mexicans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans who make up the bulk of the undocumented population.

What is more, these patterns have been observed consistently over the last three decennial censuses, a period that spans the current era of mass immigration, and recall similar national-level findings reported by three major government commissions during the first three decades of the 20th century

2007, Immigration Policy Center, Rubén G., Ph.D. and Walter A. Ewing, Ph.D.

The flagrant violation of International Human Rights law by States with draconian Immigration laws sanctioning the use of immigration prisons and brutal treatment of refugees deprived of basic health care and personal security–

offends the moral dignity of human beings guaranteed in, for instance Article, 14(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states:

(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. (UDHR 1948)

The reality, however, for hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing extreme violence in their homeland, is that further State sanctioned violence awaits them in a host country that openly violates international law and multilateral treaties recognizing the rights of refugees

Article 31 of The Convention relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 further provides that:

The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory —

where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.’

Instead of protecting vulnerable ethnic minorities such as the Rohingya fleeing for their lives from brutal State genocidaires , the domestic immigration laws of some South East Asian States impose brutal corporal punishment on illegal immigrants and overstayers; (Note: com/story/amnesty-international-accuses-malaysia-of-human-torture-over-refugee-caning-12032658)_

flogging or whipping of non violent immigration offenders such as the Rohingya people fleeing what was described by the UN as a genocide committed against them by the Myanmar army in 2017 (A/HRC/39/CRP.2 in Word (;

persecuted migrants treated no differently by Sovereign States from violent hard core offenders…

Such immoral laws fail miserably in shocking the sensibilities of citizens or evoking their moral outrage at unconscionable acts done under the guise of a Sovereign States’ right to uphold the ‘rule of law’.

Similar State sanctioned atrocities are reportedly carried out against illegal immigrants across the globe in countries such as Croatia.

In June this year (2020) , Amnesty International claimed that ‘Croatian police tortured and abused migrants trying to enter the country from neighboring Bosnia and Hercegovina’. Amnesty International Claims Croatian Police Beat, Tortured Migrants (

Amnesty International reported that:

men in black uniforms identical to those worn by Croatian police spent five hours abusing 16 Pakistani and Afghan immigrants, then mocked their injuries by smearing food on them.

Croatia’s allegedly stringent blockade of its external borders with Serbia and Bosnia fuels a steady drumbeat of abuse accusations coming from migrants pushed back across the border.Amnesty International Claims Croatian Police Beat, Tortured Migrants (

Amnesty also cited claims about Croatian police capturing 16 immigrants near Plitvice Lakes on May 26.

“They did not give us a chance to say anything at all when they caught us,” Tariq, one migrant, told Amnesty International.

“They just started hitting us. While I was lying on the ground, they hit my head with the back of a gun and I started bleeding.

I tried to protect my head from the blows, but they started kicking me and hitting my arms with metal sticks. I was passing in and out of consciousness the rest of the night.”

Amnesty International Claims Croatian Police Beat, Tortured Migrants (

Amnesty reported that ‘up to 10 of the migrants suffered serious injuries, including 30-year-old Tariq, who is now wheelchair-bound, with three out of four extremities in casts’; other migrants whom doctors treated were said to have suffered ‘broken noses, arms and legs, cuts, blunt force traumas, collapsed lungs, and multiple fractures.” Amnesty International Claims Croatian Police Beat, Tortured Migrants (

Such inhumane torture and imprisonment of migrants in Asia and across the globe must end;

It ends when we stop believing the cleverly crafted lies woven by elite legislators ensconced in political power: that illegal immigrants pose an existential threat to the unique socio-cultural composition of our societies and the security of its borders;

lies premised in part on a warped interpretation of the UN Charter’s recognition of respect for a Sovereign State’s right to self – determination of peoples (Charter of the United Nations, Chp.1, Art. 1 )

Yet, this right of a people to self-determination is an exclusive one, conferred by State legislators on only some peoples within their borders rather than all peoples,–

a right depending on whether one possesses those features of humanity deemed desirable and profitable by politicians in a polity of their choice;

one ensuring a socio-political, ethno- cultural homogeneity that is conducive to entrenching autocratic nationalist rulers in office;

What are we left with?

Instead of a World of Pluralistic societies celebrating cultural diversity and respect for individual human rights,

We are left with the disenfranchisement of millions of Stateless families and their children, languishing in State prisons ………. a forgotten remnant of humanity.



Behrouz Boochani, ‘No Friend but the Mountains’, Picador, 2018.

(Becker, ‘Outsiders defining Deviance: The Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance, 1963, pp. 1–18. Copyright © 1963 by the Free Press.

Nils Christie, Crime Control as Industry, Routledge, NY, 2017.

Opinion | Abolish Immigration Prisons – The New York Times (

The Myth of Immigrant Criminality and the Paradox of Assimilation:
Incarceration Rates among Native and Foreign-Born Men
‘, 2007, Immigration Policy Center
Rubén G. Rumbaut, Ph.D. and Walter A. Ewing, Ph.D.


A/HRC/39/CRP.2 in Word (;

Amnesty International Claims Croatian Police Beat, Tortured Migrants (

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s