‘Enemy Aliens’ – Really?

12 Sep, 2022 | Blogs, Human Rights Ambassador Programme, Latest

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By Izzy Arkus, age 17, René Cassin Ambassador Programme 2022

Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”.

Monsieur René Cassin, French Jewish jurist, helped write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The importance of protecting human rights had become increasingly more apparent after the disastrous genocide of the Jews and many more during WWII.

My research for my René Cassin Ambassador Project helped to further educate me on what the term ‘claiming asylum’ really meant. It was a phrase I had recognised from the media during the Syrian Civil War in 2011 when discussing the Syrian Refugee Crisis. Claiming asylum is when someone asks the government of another country to provide them protection and the right to stay in that country because it is unsafe for them to stay or go back to their own country. In order for someone to claim asylum they must meet certain criteria such as they are at risk of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, gender and more, they have a well-founded fear of persecution and there is a risk that something could happen in the future.

Living in London I had never heard of the Hassockfield Detention Centre in County Durham. The Home Office started detaining women here on the 28th December 2021, not even a year ago at my time of writing and researching this. These women have been detained for one the following reasons: their claim to asylum has been refused, they are in the process of claiming asylum or appealing a claim, they are stateless so can’t be deported or they can’t be deported because we recognise it is too dangerous to send them to their own country.

In Hassockfield, most women are known to be survivors of trafficking, torture, or sexual violence previous to their detention. Detention centres such as this one can have devastating effects on women’s mental health. Detention is not only harmful for these women but is also expensive for the government and it is unjust for these women to be kept in jail-like conditions when they haven’t committed any crime and are just searching for safety.

As a woman, I felt distress and upset upon reading about Hassockfield. I felt affected by this not only because I am a woman, but because of the history of Jews fleeing persecution across Europe and the effects it had on them. After the Jews fled persecution in Europe during World War I and II, 40,000 Austrian and German Jews were detained in the Isle of Man, Liverpool, and Devon. Those held in the Isle of Man were labelled as ‘enemy aliens’ and were detained indefinitely.

The UK is one of the only countries in Europe where it is legal to hold migrants in detention without a time limit. These women, like the Jews in the Isle of Man, have been stripped of their rights and freedom. I believe it is time to learn from our past mistakes and discuss how we can help these women and not contribute to their suffering.

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