January 21, 2021
From PM Press

By Nico Vaccari
Red Pepper Magazine
January 17th, 2020

Siobhán McGuirk and Adrienne Pine’s edited volume is a powerful indictment of the modern migration complex writes Nico Vaccari

January 17, 2021
7 min read

At the end of 2019, nearly 80 million people worldwide were
forcefully displaced because of war, occupation, extreme poverty and/or
the climate crisis. It is hard to comprehend the scale of such
displacement. A number equivalent to the combined populations of the UK
and Belgium forced out of their homes by systems and structures beyond
their control.

From the very beginning of Asylum for Sale: Profit and Protest in the Migration Industry,
it is clear that this is a text of resistance. The book sets out to
dissect a vastly expanding global industry whose profit is generated by
the creation, displacement, prevention, detention, processing,
trafficking, imprisonment and deportation of people seeking asylum. The
collection of essays makes for a moving and sobering read. Asylum for Sale
manages to simultaneously encapsulate the brutality of the current
system and yet still implores us to imagine an alternative future.

What if, for instance, the Dutch government had secured a home for
14-year old Syrian teenager Ali Ghezawi and his family? Would he still
have committed suicide? What if the British government had allowed
Ugandan Mercy Beguma to work while applying for asylum? Would she still
have been found dead alongside her crying, malnourished, one-year old
son? What if more than 20,000 European citizens, and still counting, had
drowned in the Mediterranean between 2014 and 2020? Would we be more
likely to demand change?

An extensive journey

Asylum for Sale takes the reader on an extensive journey
across the violent border regimes of the United States, Australia and
the European Union. Each of the book’s sections dutifully focuses on a
different aspect of the commodification of asylum, providing shocking
and unique insights. Throughout it all, the obvious double injustice at
the heart of Asylum for Sale is that the countries and regions
that now pursue punitive border regimes initially prospered from the
colonial and imperial extraction of the places from which people are now
forced to flee.

From the start, the book reveals the horrendous conditions human
beings must endure while seeking asylum. These vary from the more
grotesque, refugee organ trafficking to the more routine instances of
capitalist exploitation, such as asylum-seekers being forced to work in
slave-like conditions in sweatshops. The second section, ‘Waiting
games’, goes on to bleakly examine the reality of privately-run migrant
detention centres around the world. ‘Detained voices’ platforms accounts
of labour exploitation of those detained, while other authors focus on
those employed in the industry. An unnerving observation is made that
most employees in the 300 or so detention facilities across Europe are
descendants of migrants or are holding temporary residence permits

Reading about the experiences of those detained and those hired to
detain successively is an unsettling confirmation of one of the central
arguments in Aimé Cesaire’s revolutionary anti-colonial polemic Discourse on Colonialism.
The process of committing colonial violence ‘decivilises’ the
‘civilised’ coloniser, pulling them deeper and deeper into the void of
barbarism and despair. Each page of Asylum for Sale burns
brightly with evidence of the barbaric, inhumane crimes committed
against refugees and migrants by supposedly exemplary nation states that
claim to respect human rights. It goes without saying that the asylum
industrial complex is corrosive and corrupting from top to bottom.

Throughout its pages Asylum for Sale continues to
investigate those who profit from preventing people from seeking asylum:
arms companies contracted to militarise land and sea borders, law firms
selling ‘freedom’ and the corporate giants often hired by the UK and
Irish governments to run asylum accommodation centres where conditions
regularly violate fundamental human rights.

All of the contributors relentlessly drive forward the book’s
narrative, moving the reader between countries and continents, borders
and boats, airports and detention centres, guarded backseats of charter
planes and in the hands of human traffickers or alienated bureaucrats.
The reader is constantly plummeted into the emotional, psychological,
physical and financial demands of a seemingly never-ending refugee
journey. Editors Adrienne Pine and Red Pepper’s Siobhán McGuirk
effectively illustrate how widespread the migration/asylum industry is.
There isn’t a corner on this planet where someone isn’t risking their
life to reach safety, often cruelly rendered ‘illegal’ in the process.

Testimony as resistance

Asylum for Sale’s strongest moments are when lived accounts
are laid bare in front of the reader. In the first section of the book,
‘Crossings’, Nigerian artist Uyi recounts his punishing journey from
Nigeria to mainland Europe. Uyi’s testimony is accompanied by personal
illustrations of his harrowing experience travelling across the Sahara
in jeeps that don’t stop even if someone falls off and crossing the most
dangerous route in the world for migrants, the Mediterranean, in an
overcrowded, unstable boat.

The images of Uyi’s hands holding drawings of their gruelling journey
are as visceral as they are matter of fact. They unhinge our privilege
as readers – European, white, ‘western’ – into the cold, harsh light of
self-awareness and recognition. The hand-drawn images of personal
experience captured by the clinical eye of the camera fulfil the role of
political art: call out complicity, provoke empathy and encourage
critical thought.

Another impressive contribution of artistic activism is ‘A guard’s
story’, the first-hand account of a Serco employee inside an Australian
immigration detention facility. This chapter stands out vividly by
conveying a detention centre worker’s perspective in a testimonial
comic-book style. The account details the internal moral conflict of the
worker and the alienating, detrimental effect such a job has on one’s
psychological wellbeing and wider social and family environments. The
tasteful, profound and beautifully crafted images, all of which are
inspired by extensive interviews with the ex-employee, are burning proof
that together art and activism can, do and should play a crucial
combative role in the fight against structural and institutional

‘The poetics of prison protest’, by Iranian-Kurdish Behrouz Boochani,
is a further inspiring account of protest and resistance. Boochani was
imprisoned for six years in an Australian detention centre on Manus
island. The excerpt ‘Tweeting as protest’ particularly stands out – a
series of screenshotted tweets exposing abuses happening in the
detention centre posted by Boochani whilst incarcerated. The chain of
screenshots is a direct civil society action, evidence presented to the
reader that the only effective way of igniting social change is to
tirelessly and courageously expose the crimes of the ruling capitalist

Contributions such as the above elevate Asylum for Sale from
a fascinating scholarly volume to a militant tool of action and
resistance. Presenting first-hand survivor accounts of profit-driven
violence is protest. Ensuring people read these lived experiences is

Asylum for Sale stands out in the large canon of asylum and
migration literature because it does not lose track of humanity, unlike
many academic volumes. It successfully encapsulates the expansive
geography and economic and political complexities of an industry that
makes money from illegalising and commodifying human beings. The last
sentence of the volume shatters all structural and systematic attempts
to dehumanise refugees. ‘Rejected’ Afghan refugee Farshid’s dream is to
live freely, like us: ‘He hopes to be a singer one day.’

Nico Vaccari the co-founder and co-artistic director of BÉZNĂ Theatre, a BritishRomanian political theatre collective. You can follow them @BEZNATheatre

This article first appeared in Issue #230, Struggles for Truth. Subscribe today to support independent media and get your issue hot off the press!

Siobhan McGuirk – In addition to her academic
publications addressing gender and sexuality, migration, and social
justice movements, McGuirk is an award-winning filmmaker, curator and
editor for Red Pepper magazine. Her writing has appeared in Teen VogueRewire News, and Australian Options.
She received her Doctorate in Anthropology from American University in
2016 and holds a Masters in Visual Anthropology from the University of
Manchester. She is a Postdoctoral Researcher in Anthropology at
Goldsmiths, University of London. 

Adrienne Pine is a critical medical
anthropologist whose work has explored the embodiment of structural
violence and imperialism in Honduras, cross-cultural approaches to
revolutionary nursing, and neoliberal fascism. She has served as an
expert country conditions witness in around 100 asylum cases over the
past fifteen years. Adrienne is an assistant professor at the American
University and author of Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras

Check out Adrienne Pine and Siobhán McGuirk’s & new book:

Source: Pmpress.org