Locking up undocumented foreigners is inhuman, senseless and unaffordable

26 January 2011

Locking up undocumented foreigners is inhuman, senseless and unaffordable

The policy of imprisoning foreigners who have no valid residence permit is mistaken. SP Member of Parliament Rik Janssen used today’s parliamentary debate to demand rapid improvements from Immigration and Asylum Minister Geerd Leers. “The minister must make a serious effort to implement the SP’s proposal, which was supported by Parliament, to find alternatives to the locking up of foreigners ,” said Janssen.

Rik JanssenIn addition to being unaffordable, locking up undocumented foreigners is in Janssen’s view inhuman and ineffective. “People sit for months behind bars with no sign of deportation. Not always because people don’t cooperate, but often because the country of origin does not cooperate over their return. After months of pointless detention people are turned out on to the street and then they can be arrested again. Why pay €200 a day per head, when there are better alternatives which only cost €50? If the government wants to make unauthorised residence a criminal offence this will become even more expensive, simply unaffordable in fact, while all you’ll achieve is that people will be locked up for longer, not that more people will be sent back.”

Janssen is not alone in his criticism. The Justice Ministry’s own department dealing with the application of punishments, as well as the Council of Europe, Amnesty International and the UN High Commission for Refugees have all strongly criticised the way in which foreigners are locked up in a ‘prison-like’ regime. Janssen is demanding that the policy be rapidly improved. “We should be ashamed that we treat foreigners like this. There are enough humane alternatives, such as a duty to report, or restricted reception centres. Examples in the UK, Denmark, Australia and Belgium show that this can be done in ways both more effective and less costly. The minister should be taking a serious look at this because it’s clear that something must change, and quickly.”
Prevention is better than imprisonment, in Janssen’s view. “Rapid and meticulous asylum procedures should ensure that as few people as possible find themselves between a rock and a hard place. But people who have nowhere to go aren’t criminals, and we shouldn’t treat them as such.”

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