On SAGE Insight: ‘Stuck in the middle’: Waiting and uncertainty in immigration detention

From Time & Society

The lived experience of detention is one of waiting. In the UK there are no statutory constraints on the length of time an individual can be detained. The British government chose not to adopt the European Union Returns Directive, which limits the duration of detention to a total maximum of 18 months This paper draws on ethnographic fieldwork, including 89 semi-structured interviews with detainees, carried out in four immigration removal centres in the UK to explore the lived experiences of waiting. The analysis demonstrates the relevancy of time and agency in immigration detention.

Abstract

A defining feature of immigration detention in the United Kingdom is its indeterminacy; that is, there are no statutory constraints on the length of time an individual can be detained. As such, detention is uncertain and unpredictable; it may last a few hours or a few days, or weeks, months, and even years. Consequently, the lived experience of detention is one of waiting: waiting to know both when and how detention will end (i.e. release to the community or expulsion from the country). The denial of liberty and the conditions of confinement present additional challenges for detainees, as they must contend with significant limits to their agency as they await the decisions of a variety of other actors. Waiting has been conceptualised as an exercise of power, one that manipulates others’ time. Although it is a common human experience, for immigration detainees, the lived experience of waiting in the uncertain and unpredictable context of detention is especially challenging. Passing time in immigration detention raises important questions about affect, identity, agency, and resistance within this unique quasi-penal space. This paper draws on ethnographic fieldwork, including 89 semi-structured interviews with detainees, carried out in four immigration removal centres in the UK to explore the lived experiences of waiting. The analysis demonstrates the relevancy of time and agency in immigration detention.

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Article details
Sarah Turnbull
‘Stuck in the middle’: Waiting and uncertainty in immigration detention
Time & Society March 2016 25: 61-79, first published on September 8, 2015 doi:10.1177/0961463X15604518

 

 

     
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