Habeas Corpus

by Maria on August 8, 2003

Statewatch has issued an alert about a proposal of the Italian Presidency under the Schengen accord to use plainclothes police and unmarked cars to deport expelled illegal immigrants. I’m often in agreement with Statewatch’s criticisms of undemocratic and often downright nasty decisions taken under the EU’s Third Pillar of Justice and Home Affairs, but this piece seems hyperbolic and unnecessarily shrill. If a migrant is unlucky enough to be deported, does it really matter if there is a police insignia on the van?

The question is, how to deport from the EU people whose appeals etc. have been heard and who can no longer legally remain? It’s not about immigration policies per se (and I share Statewatch’s general view that these should be more transparent, open, and basically humane than they are.) And it’s not about Justice and Home Affairs Council decisions being secretive, undemocratic and opportunistically used to couch anti-immigrant measures as fighting terrorism. (Altough they often are.) Statewatch is objecting to people being driven to ‘safe’ countries outside the EU in unmarked police vans, and the police being allowed to use reasonable force to prevent them from escaping. But when immigrants are deported on both scheduled and chartered flights, or by other forms of public transport, objections seem just as strong;

“As we going to see people shackled to their seats on public trains and coaches or perhaps trains with “cattle trucks” chugging east, reminiscent of another time?”

In an effort to sell these rather technical legal issue to journalists, it’s understandable that Statewatch indulge in a little hyperbole. But am I alone in finding this allusion over the top and even offensive?

The press release goes on with the kind of soundbite that gives NGOs a bad name;

“This proposal is indicative of a wider question, it is said that the EU tracks the whereabouts of every cow that leaves the Community to counter fraud but it has no idea where those expelled end up, whether they are alive or dead , free or imprisoned, fed or starving. Under this proposal responsibility ends when “the third country national has been finally removed from the territory of the Member States”. Does the EU care more about cattle than people?”

So what is the alternative – to tag people like cattle and track their movements? Obviously not. But this kind of illogical hyperbole draws attention away from the real problem – that political asylum seekers and the stateless are cast into the outer darkness of impoverished ‘safe’ countries – and directs it at a total red herring. Statewatch’s cheap shot makes their criticism easy to deflect.

It is of course true that EU countries are cooperating more and more on immigration (or rather on anti-immigration measures), and forceable deportation is part of that. And it is undoubtedly true that civil society organisations are sidelined when these decisions are taken. But isn’t deportation an inevitable part of having an immigration policy? There are of course valid concerns about the use of unreasonable force and the countries where people are effectively abandoned. But it seems to me that Statewatch won’t come out and say that all deportation is wrong and should be stopped, so instead it makes over the top allusions about the aesthetics of being expelled.

Then again, maybe I’ve missed the point here, and there is something objectively worse about this manner of deportation. But it seems to me that the essential difficulties are with our immigration policies themselves. Don’t blame the messenger, guys.