Death, Detention, and Immigration

The Moscow Times and Kommersant are reporting that Manana Dzhabelia, 50, a Georgian woman who was being held in a Moscow detention center for living illegally in Russia, died from a heart attack, and according to friends, was refused medical care. Dzhabelia is now the second victim of Moscow’s anti-Georgian and immigrant campaign.

As Kommersant reports,

Manana Dzhabelia was a refugee from Abkhazia, and lived in Moscow since 1990. She was seized in the process of a police raid on the Domodedovskii market on October 4—in the heat of the anti-Georgian campaign. The Nagatinskii court of Moscow made a decision about her deportation to Georgia because for expired registration. However, the state was not successful in deporting Mrs. Dzhabelia from the country—she challenged the decision in Moscow City Court, claiming that she could not get registration because her passport was at the Georgian Consulate in Moscow.

Two days before Mrs. Dzhabelia died, the Moscow court ruled in her favor, but word did not reach the detention center in time.

The horrors of immigrant detention are not just found in Russia. Last week, a riot broke out in Harmondsworth Immigration Reception Centre in Britain. According to reports, the reason for the outbreak was detainees’ fear of abuse by detention staff. These views are corroborated by a report on the conditions of the Hamondsworth Centre which stated that “44% of detainees said they had been victimized by staff; 60% said they felt unsafe,” including a frequent use of solitary confinement. Solitary confinement was used 129 times during the first half of 2006 alone. “This is undoubtedly the poorest report we have issued on an immigration removal centre,” the report stated. Riot police had to be deployed to regain control of the center.

In Australia, three reports were released that criticized the condition of 20 detained immigrants. The criticism focused on 10 detentions that involved children and nine involving the mentally ill. The reports come on the heels of Government suggestions to tighten immigration and stiffen citizenship tests on language and “Australian values.” The problem with this is exactly as Peter van Vliet states, “The problem with trying to define “Australian values” beyond democracy and the rule of law is that they are not necessarily agreed values. Pluralism, or the right to hold different values beyond the acceptance of democracy and the rule of law, is arguably one of the most important values in a multicultural society and effectively rejects a detailed list of agreed values.” Interestingly, Australia’s discussion about what constitutes “Australian” parallels the discussion about “Russian” in Russia.

The United States government is getting the reputation of detaining and deporting children. According to a report on NPR’s All Things Considered, there are 8,000 “illegal” immigrant children in US detention centers, up from 4500 in 2000. Their treatment was so harsh in these centers that a 2002 court ruling placed them under the Department of Health and Human Services. Yet, as the NPR report states, “the system is a study in contradiction: Immigration officials still work to deport these children, even as HHS operates a growing network of shelters to care for and educate them.”

The problem of immigration is not relegated to any particular region or country. Immigration is a global problem where Russia is one of the many offenders of immigrant rights.

Mrs. Dzhabelia’s death in Russia, the riots in Britain, the detention of mentally ill in Australia, and the immigrant children in the United States are the horrific results of the category “illegal”. Because a person doesn’t have the proper papers attesting to their status, they are detained, and the only way they can prove their “legality” is providing the proper documents. It is incidents like this that remind us that the supposed inalienable rights proclaimed by Enlightenment thought are paper thin. The laws of nation state, itself a product of Enlightenment, is the final arbiter of who is a “legal” and “illegal” human, making our human rights simply provisional.