“Please Deport Me As Soon As Possible”. Incommensurable Realities in Immigrant Detention

Saturday, 21 July 2018: 15:00
Oral Presentation
Jukka KÖNÖNEN, University of Tampere, Finland
Despite increasing attention on the psychological harms of immigrant detention for asylum-seekers and irregular migrants, empirical researches completed in the detention facilities rely often on a limited number of interviews without addressing the diverse situations of detainees. The presentation emphasizes ambiguities in detention based on a mixed-method and multi-sited ethnographic research on the immigrant detention system in Finland. Analysis of all the detention orders issued by the police in 2016 (N=1080) supplements the long-term ethnographic fieldwork in two detention units and in the respective district courts, providing together a comprehensive and unique perspective on the operation of immigration detention in all its diversity. In Finland, detention times vary between hours to one year depending on the country of return and the level of compliance. Instead of the asylum system, the immigrant detention is mainly intertwined with the criminal system: indeed, the largest detained group in Finland are Eastern Europeans, including EU-citizens, who have an entry ban due to the previous criminal activities. Many of the detainees have been before in other European countries, implying an emergence of south-north irregular migration inside Europe.

Despite the tendency to dramatize immigrant detention in the migration research, detention can be a normal part of life for migrants, who have been deported and detained several times. While detention designates agonizing indeterminacy in a desperate situation, those having a possibility of re-migration often request a quick implementation of the removal. I argue that immigrant detention constitutes an incommensurable reality depending on the personal-legal history in the country (e.g. family ties, employment, legal status), and on the situation in the country of removal (including the costs of re-migration). In order to challenge immigrant detention, it’s necessary to acknowledge the heterogeneous backgrounds of detainees, and the actual ineffectiveness of the detention/deportation system in the management of migration.