Foreign nationals and the criminal justice system

Foreign nationals and the criminal justice system


Written by: Harmit Athwal

Below we reproduce an extract of the lead article from the IRR’s European Race Bulletin on the fate of foreign nationals swept up in Europe’s deportation drive.

Sensationalist headlines about foreign criminals – from dark and swarthy Middle-Eastern terrorists, Albanian rapists and sexual predators from Africa, to Roma swindlers and tricksters from eastern and central Europe – now dominate European newspapers. In response to such stories, politicians have set targets for the removal of foreign national prisoners and the belief has grown that deportation is a reasonable and proportionate way of guaranteeing public security against a foreign enemy. But behind the media stories lies another reality – a hidden reality which relates to the lives of those ‘foreigners’ who are increasingly being swept up in Europe’s deportation drive.

In fact, those ‘foreign criminals’, targeted for deportation, are less likely to be serious crooks and dangerous sexual predators of modern folklore and more likely to be poor migrants and asylum seekers arrested for immigration crimes such as travelling on false documents, working illegally or other administrative offences relating to immigration laws. They may be Roma on the move from persecution in eastern and central Europe and arrested on the streets of western Europe for such serious threats to public order as begging or homelessness. They may even be second- or even third-generation immigrant youth, the children and grandchildren of guest workers, who are listed as foreign nationals within prison statistics and swell the ranks of Europe’s prison population (they do not have citizenship, even though they were born in Europe, because of blood-based citizenship laws). They may also be among the growing number of young adults who came to Europe as children, refugees from countries like Sudan, Somalia, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, but were given no support to deal with the trauma they had experienced and, as juveniles, drifted into a life of delinquency or vagrancy. They may also be refused asylum seekers.

Could it be that behind governmental resolve to deport more foreign nationals who commit crimes, lies another agenda and purpose? In a world where increasing numbers of people are being displaced, and where the possibilities to migrate for work are greater than ever before, western European governments are seeking to establish just which migrant workers, third country nationals and so-called ‘virtual nationals’ (ie people who have lived in Europe during their formative years but for one reason or another do not have citizenship) gain rights to permanent settlement. The obverse of this is that citizenship and settlement is denied to or withdrawn from whole categories of people who come to be seen as an unwanted residual population to be disposed of like toxic waste.

This article focuses on the gradual creation of a separate criminal justice system for aliens, characterised by harsher sentencing and prison segregation as well as the ultimate punishment of deportation following a prison sentence (double punishment). Separation, segregation and expulsion are new penal principles passed off by politicians as a proportionate response to the menace of foreign criminals. But the laws and measures we outline below are actually disproportionate, authoritarian and fly in the face of modern penal policy that holds that punishment should be tailored to the individual, should fit the crime, and should be geared towards the rehabilitation of the offender. This creation of a separate and harsher criminal justice system represents a major extension of the xeno-racist systems that have emerged since the early 1990s from asylum policy as well as since September 11 from the war on terror. As the criminologist Susanne Krasmann has observed, the very concept of the ‘enemy’ is ‘indeterminate and might well be extended eventually without limits’.[1] What we are now seeing is the extension of this category from asylum seekers and terror suspects, to foreigners and aliens per se.

To read the rest of this article, you can either subscribe to the European Race Bulletin or buy the issue.

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The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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