Words Matter

Asylum accommodation is not a “prison”

Why the ‘prison’ narrative reinforces the criminality of migration.

asylum accommodation is not a "prison"

2023 saw a noticeable increase in the dehumanisation of migration. The inhumane Migration Act was passed which has further restricted the ability to safely come to the UK through authorised routes and the outsourcing of the UK’s protection obligation by sending migrants, including asylum seekers, to Rwanda. In addition, the Home Office has stated it is working to secure “large sites and vessels” to accommodate people seeking safety in its mission to find an alternative to hotel accommodation. The most infamous is the Bibby Stockholm barge. Campaigns against cruel asylum accommodation have increasingly been rooted in the narrative that sites of this nature are equivalent to ‘prisons’. However, we’re moving away from the narrative of ‘prison’ in our communications.

Using the term ‘prisons’ to describe asylum accommodation reinforces the idea migrants, including asylum seekers, have done something wrong. Furthermore, we often see migrants themselves upholding these norms in statements like “I am not a criminal”. This upholds the belief that ‘criminals’ should be treated poorly by the State, and the increasing division of society. 

The definition of a prison is a place of confinement as punishment for a crime an individual has committed. Both the UK and other Western governments have pursued an agenda of harsh criminalisation of migration through increasingly restrictive policies and expansion of the detention state. 

The use of the word ‘prison’ has also been used to describe areas of the world such as Gaza, often referred to as an ‘open-air prison’. A false description of what the reality is, and underpins the justification for forcing people to live under siege. 

Lessons from the prison abolitionist movement teach us that the language around ‘prisons’ and criminal justice can reinforce the violence of the system itself. Undoing harmful systems must be based in language which reaffirms the humanity and dignity of those impacted by it. Transformational and meaningful change of both the incarceration and immigration system must be based in humanity and compassionate language. 

Our language should be accurate when referring to asylum accommodation. 

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