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Public Lecture on “Migration and Detention in Europe”, Antwerp, September 2011

22 September 2011

Mark Rotsaert SJ informs the audience how this session is organised in the name of the SCRIBANI-netwerk (www.scribani.net), a cooperation between 15 European Jesuit centres focused on issues of social justice within Europe. The topic was chosen in function of the last SCRIBANI-conference of September 2010 on European migration policy and in light of the next conference in Dublin in 2012 on European detention.

Professor Christiane Timmerman, director of the Centre for Migration and Intercultural Studies of the University of Antwerp, sketched the evolution of migration flows to Europe in recent times highlighting new trends and underlying mechanisms.

Data reveal a slight general downward trend in numbers of incoming migrants, feminisation of the migrant population, diversification of origin (60% from other European countries) and of motives (labour migration, as well as migration for educational purposes and family reunion).

Is it possible to predict future trends? Professor Timmerman refers to the model Hein de Haas, researcher at the Internationaal Migration Institute (IMI) of the University of Oxford, devised and in which migration flows are positioned in interaction with (political and economic) external factors and internal factors (such as labour market opportunities). A downward migration trend will appear when the risks and costs of the enterprise become too high. Migration may be compared to a process of diffusion which reaches a saturation point at a certain point in time. Another model developed by de Haas identifies the different stages of migration, from pioneering migration to growth migration once social networks are in place, over rooted migration communities with looser internal social bonds and more interaction with the ‘outside’, up to a phase of stagnation of the flow through assimilation, geographic dispersal or the closing of the gap between opportunities offered in the homeland and the country of destination.

According to professor Timmerman the European migration flows manifest signs of saturation under pressure of external macro factors such as the economic crisis which narrows the difference between opportunities in chances, political transformations (stong nationalist tendencies throughout Europe) and a more restrictive migration policy.

Philip Amaral, Policy and Communication Officer of the Jesuit Refugee Services Europe (JRS), discussed the use of detention as a means for migration control, which has become rather norm than exception throughout Europe (full text of speech below). Although quantification is difficult given the flux of the detention population and weak record keeping, 100.000 people a safe estimate. Are the financial costs involved (e.g. 120 pounds in the UK per bed per day) reasonable and are we willing to bear them as a necessary evil? JRS fieldwork done within the framework of a research project in 2008 (DEVAS report below) on the basis of an interview sample of 685 detainees across Europe gives an indication of the high human costs to be added to the financial costs. A core problem is the loss of control, leading to vulnerability expressed through symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia, poor self-esteem comparable to shell-shock symptoms. Do the means serve the cause? The costs are excessive and disproportionate for people who have committed no crime. JRS is co-founder of the Australian-based International Detention Commission, which has done research into alternatives to detention. Proposals include release on bail under supervision of guarantor organisations, development of reception centres, application of social work methods such as in community houses with case managers. The savings on costs could attain up to 90% and the willingness to return voluntarily would increase. Illegal migrants are foremost in need of support for basic needs and access to information to regulate their case.

The panel discussion, moderated by theologian Jacques Haers SJ, voiced the concerns of representatives of Jesuit organisations. Mercedes Fernandez Garcia of the Institute for Migration Studies of Comillas University in Madrid evokes the impact of the Spanish economic crisis on the migrant population. Christoph Renders of JRS Belgium, implied in the realisation of the above-mentioned DEVAS report, wonders why migrants are criminalised because of administrative regulations (detention after all is a means to protect society against danger). Containing migration may be a legitimate concern, but not all means are acceptable. John Guiney of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice from Dublin speaks about the ‘direct provision centres’ in Ireland (where there are no migrant detention centres) and how they remind him of the refugee camps in Africa where he used to work. In both situations there is a lot of ‘collateral damage’ and the lack of precise information (on how long you are going to be detained in the knowledge you will have nothing to survive on once you are released) creates a feeling of living in limbo. José Ignacio Garcia Jimenez of OCIPE, the European Jesuit Office, recognizes the mission of his office to participate in the debate with European institutes and indicates how the worldwide network of migrant organisations of the Society of Jesus supports migrants on the ground. The principle of human dignity is primordial and includes the right of free movement to settle where you want, to expect protection from the government and to stay together with your family and profess your religion.


22 September 2011
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