Britain supports torture not in theory but de facto

As an anthropologist who works with Muslims, many of whom are immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, as well as illegal immigrants, I came to know how difficult their lives could be. Of course, there are people who exploit the system; there are people who lie to acquire naturalization (see for instance the case of Ayaan Hirsi Ali), there are people who do not need to remain, as refugees, in our country. Yet I can tell you that the life of an asylum-seeker and refugee cannot be understood while sitting on a sofa, watching sensationalist news while eating crisps and drinking Coke, and waiting for the rest of the family to be ready for dinner and for the children to stop playing their Nintendo console. You have to try it. You have to experience it. Yet this would still not be enough because you would miss a fundamental element: ‘fear’. This fear, in the case of asylum-seekers can be extremely real (and often this fear is underestimated by the authorities) or even just imaginary, based on previous traumatic experiences (and this last kind of fear does not count towards the success of the application).

Think that, you, the refugee, with all the fear and the worry, for the well being of your children, have to live with it day and night while waiting for a special commando unit to remove you from a difficult, but perceived safe, life and relocated to your own real nightmare. Just think about your worst phobia, and imagine that the Prime Minister has the power to make it real for you, at his own vote-grabbing convenience.

Yet the forced removal of an asylum-seeker family is a very traumatic event, full of officers, smashed doors and screams. Have you ever wondered why the police forces are allowed to film anti-drug operations (the exciting footage of the officers breaking in and screaming ‘POLICE’) so that you can enjoy it in the latest news report, but never ever an operation aimed at cleansing the area from ‘dirty’ asylum-seekers? Maybe because it may look like that:

It should have been another ordinary school day for Bektas Coban, 14, but instead he woke up to strangers rampaging through his home and his father threatening to throw himself to his certain death from the balcony of their 20th-storey flat in Glasgow. Clutching Maria, his three-year-old sister, close, Bektas last night relived the moment when his daily routine was shattered by the cacophony of loud bangs on the door of the family’s council flat in Cardonald. Shaking as he recalled his terror, Bektas said: “They came in and started shouting at us and said they were going to take us away. “Then my dad went out to the balcony and said he was going to jump. I was saying to him over and over again not to jump. It was terrifying. Dad was shouting and everyone was crying.” (Scotsman 5/10/2006)


However, this is just the door to hell. Indeed, if a caption to what has to come was needed, I could leave it to my fellow Florentine Dante,


Through me you pass into the city of woe:
Through me you pass into eternal pain:
Through me among the people lost for aye.

Justice the founder of my fabric moved:
To rear me was the task of Power divine,
Supremest Wisdom, and primeval Love.

Before me things create were none, save things
Eternal, and eternal I endure.
All hope abandon, ye who enter here.”
Inferno [Hell] Canto III


Indeed, from the Independent reports today, the real hell, including characteristic horrible tortures, start when the asylum seekers is, after being detained, physically removed. The description of what the asylum seekers, in particular if black or Muslim, had to suffer can only be described as torture. I can understand how, after this, the asylum seekers, now passed from the bloody hands of the ‘government mercenaries’ to the often bloodier hands of the destination’s immigration officers, may see the prison cell or even the coffin as a chance for peace.

Dr Gordon Brown, the prime minister, has the fantastic capacity of affirming one thing in theory and denying it in action. At the Labour Party conference last week, he claimed “to stand up for those suffering persecution in Burma, Darfur and Zimbabwe, singling those regimes out as the world’s ‘darkest corners’ and adding that ‘human rights are universal’” , while at the same time deporting the asylum seekers of those countries towards their death (The Independent).

If today we needed a new anti-glorify legislation, it is not one against glorifying terrorism, but ‘glorifying bullshit’. Under this new legislation the Prime Minister Brown would face a quite lengthy sentence.


Dr Gordon Brown himself, clearly knows about the torture that her Majesty’s government allows against failed asylum seekers; he also surely knows that some of the asylum-seekers removed will be dead by the time he goes home in the evening and kisses his children goodnight. A privilege that some children of failed asylum seekers may be forever denied. The Prime Minister knows that some of the deportations are tokens for political games in the next election campaign. Dr Gordon Brown knows that he is against torture, but actually, for political opportunism, he is ready to support it de facto.

2 thoughts on “Britain supports torture not in theory but de facto

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  1. As usual Gabriele an excellent and informative post, I just find it incredible they are sending people to their deaths and then blithely beating them up on the way, I know this is a bit over simplified but it’s what t adds up too. You would have thought it would be a quite simple matter of; is this person at risk of death/torture if sent back to country X? If yes, then welcome to the UK, next please. But I suppose this would be far too simple and efficient and when has any government ever aspired to that? I’m currently debating whether I want to work for the government myself or stay on for a post grad and then lecture, and that post grad is looking exceedingly tempting right now.

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