22nd – 23rd January 2015: The Business of Immigration Detention: Activisms, Resistances, Critical Interventions

On 22-23 January 2015, the final instalment of the ESRC-funded seminar series, ‘Exploring Everyday Practice and Resistance in Immigration Detention,’ was held at Lancaster University. The aim of the conference, ‘The Business of Immigration Detention: Activisms, Resistances, Critical Interventions,’ was to explore ‘the challenges facing academics and activists in the area of immigration detention and related border-security practices.’ This conference was organised by Dr Imogen Tyler and hosted by The Centre for Mobilities Research (CeMoRe) at Lancaster University.

The conference opened on the evening of 22 January with a public lecture by Dr Alison Mountz, Professor of Geography and Canada Research Chair in Global Migration, Wilfrid Laurier University. Mountz’s presentation, ‘The Business of Detention, the Death of Asylum, and the Life of Activism,’ explored the complicated terrain of detention globally with specific focus on islands as unique sites of confinement. Her talk drew attention to the vast array of business interests in the global detention industry, including governments, private companies, and NGOs. Mountz presented data from a research project that explored migrants’ journeys, their experiences of detention on islands, and practices of activism and resistance. Following Mountz’s presentation, a public performance of the ‘Asylum Monologues’ was staged by Ice & Fire. This performance provided first-hand testimonies of the UK’s asylum system in the words of those who’ve experienced it.

On 23 January, the conference opened with welcomes from Tyler and Professor John Urry, Director of CeMoRe, and powerful songs by members of the Women Asylum Seekers Together (WAST) choir. The day was divided into two sessions, ‘Activisms In and Around Detention’ and ‘Research as Resistance,’ and concluded with a keynote address by Dr Jenna Loyd, University of Wisconsin.

Session 1: Activisms In and Around Detention

Speakers in the conference’s first session were Christine Bacon, Artistic Director of Ice & Fire; members of WAST; Pa Modou Bojang (Prince) of Liverpool’s Migrant Artists Mutual Aid (MaMa); Eiri Ohtani, Co-ordinator of The Detention Forum; and John Grayson, activist and independent researcher with the South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group.

Bacon spoke briefly about her previous research on the role of private companies in making the UK’s detention estate what it is today before turning to her current work with Ice & Fire as a means to reach out to the ‘uninitiated’ through human rights performance art. She spoke of the role of Ice & Fire in training and education for Home Office staff as well as medical students about the challenges facing asylum seekers in the UK.

There are recordings of a selection of the speakers available here.

Post by Sarah Turnbull, Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford

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