At the time of writing, Amnesty International was taking Britain to task for refusing to resettle any of Syria’s 2.3 million refugees. This government responded curtly that the application of any Syrian asylum-seeker who pitched up in Britain – around 1,300 people last year – would be considered on its merits.
But of the few Syrians who do make it, not all find sanctuary.
Some are imprisoned en route, such as the family pictured on the front cover who wound up in a Bulgarian detention centre.
Another Syrian attempting to join his brother in Britain found himself detained under immigration powers in Oxfordshire. Two months (and two bail refusals) later, he had lost contact with his wife and seven children back home and was desperate to get out. Before I got the chance to speak to him, the Home Office had obliged, deporting him to Hungary, his entry-point to Europe, where he had been badly beaten.
He was just the first of many would-be interviewees to disappear. At times, it felt like chasing ghosts. Detention is a hidden, parallel world where journalists are forbidden and rights evaporate. Access is highly restricted; migrants who speak out risk reprisals. Consequently, precious few of the many thousands locked up and later released were happy to ‘play with the lion’s tail’, as one Iranian put it.
Out of public view, the most extraordinary abuses can happen. Take Peter Qasim. He spent seven years locked up after Australian authorities ‘forgot’ about him. ‘Feeling forgotten’ plagues detainees, according to one regular detention centre visitor. This magazine is our attempt to remedy this, by exposing what is happening, not in Burma or Eritrea but in Western liberal democracies – no more so than in New Internationalist’s main subscriber countries.
Elsewhere, we have a visual treat in the form of The Unreported Year, and an exclusive interview with theorist of the moment, David Graeber.
Hazel Healy for the New Internationalist co-operative.
Detention is strongly contested in the courts and on the streets, while a network of supporters shows solidarity with visits, friendship. The last few years have seen a growth in migrant-led social movements and political action. In late 2013, refugee protest camps sprang up in public squares in towns across Europe.