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In the name of safety: the multi-national anti immigration industry and their billionaire profits

I am a Non Western, South American immigrant in a society that is increasingly determined to get rid of those like me. Media constantly reminds me that we are practically non human. That our rights should be eroded further in the name of safety. Politicians build careers using the rhetoric of hatred against those like me. I was punched in the face, I was elbowed in the stomach on two different occasions by two White Supremacists who objected to my looks and my speaking another language with a friend. Racial slurs were hurled. And still, I know I don’t have it as bad as others. In the grand scheme of things, I am privileged. I am a documented resident. At least, I am not one of the thousands currently in detention camps awaiting deportation. Then my life would be under the control of a corporation that actually makes a profit out off the lives of those who are dehumanized the most. If I was undocumented, my life would be in the hands of someone like this guy, featured in The New York Times this past week:

Nick Buckles, the chief executive of G4S, would not discuss the company. But last year he told analysts how its “justice” business in the Netherlands blossomed in one week after the 2002 assassination of a politician with an anti-immigrant and law-and-order agenda.

“There’s nothing like a political crisis to stimulate a bit of change,” Mr. Buckles said.

That’s what undocumented immigrants are: a bit of political change. Except that the security guards working for the company that Mr. Buckles represents had a big degree of responsibility for the gruesome death of eleven asylum seekers who were awaiting deportation in a detention center at Schiphol Airport in The Netherlands on Thursday, October 27thof 2005. Apparently, the kind of change Mr. Buckles aims for does not include preserving the wellbeing of people whose only crime was to seek an opportunity to better their lives. When detainees raised the alarm and cried for help, when flames were taking over the detention center, the guards working for Mr. Buckles’ corporation ignored them. They were left to die. Nine men and two women. Their bodies now an “opportunity for corporate growth”.

In Rotterdam, also in The Netherlands, G4S ran the infamous detention boats, which the European Parliament qualified as “inhuman” and not suitable for housing people who had committed no crime.

But this is not a situation unique to The Netherlands; in the US, UK or Australia, many of the immigrants awaiting deportation are also in Mr. Buckles’ hands.  Alternatively, they could be detained in camps run by G4S competitors GEO or Serco. In the US alone, GEO controls 7,000 of 32,000 detention beds.  (Incidentally, the more I read and write about Mr. Buckles, the more I can totally picture him as competitor to The Simpsons’ Mr. Burns).

Mr. Buckle is the face of multi-national, global corporation G4S. Chances are, if you live in one of the countries where G4S operates you come in contact with people who work for them on a daily basis. And if you are reading this, most likely you do live in one of the countries where they operate. Because they have operations in 125 different nations. G4S is also is the world’s largest security company measured by revenues and, with over 625,000 employees it is the world’s second-largest private sector employer (after Wal-Mart Stores).

I went to G4S’ Linkedin page because I wanted to see how they present themselves to potential candidates. I wondered if they informed potential employees about their interest in growing xenophobia (you know, anti immigrant sentiments are good for business!). Do they perhaps come forward with their political interests? Do they tell people how many have died under their care? Certainly not, because this is what they have to say about their business:

G4S is the world’s leading international security solutions group.

From risk assessment to delivery, we work in partnership with governments, businesses and other organizations to provide integrated solutions to security challenges. Our heritage goes back over a century and, with more than 595,000 employees, we are the second largest private employer in the world.

We protect rock stars and sports stars, people and property, including some of the world’s most important buildings and events. From advising on stadium building plans to crowd control and ensuring event tickets are not forged; From delivering pay packets to ensuring ATMs have enough cash to meet your shopping needs; From delivering cash to bank branches and retail outlets to managing the flow of cash for central banks and major retailers; From ensuring travelers have a safe and pleasant experience in ports and airports around the world to secure detention and escorting of people who are not lawfully entitled to remain in a country;

In more ways than you might realize, G4S is securing your world.

In more ways than you might realize, G4S is securing your world. That is, unless you are an undocumented immigrant awaiting deportation. Those poor souls? Those could not be in more dangerous hands. Because, you see, the detention centers for undocumented immigrants operated by G4S have not just been responsible for the deaths in The Netherlands that I mentioned above but for many more violent casualties in several other detention centers as well. From the New York Times article:

G4S, an Anglo-Danish security conglomerate with more than 600,000 employees in 125 countries, was faulted for lethal neglect and abusive use of solitary confinement in Australia. By the middle of the past decade, after refugee children had sewed their lips together during hunger strikes in camps like Woomera and Curtin, and government commissions discovered that Australian citizens and legal residents were being wrongly detained and deported, protests pushed the Liberal Party government to dismantle some aspects of the system.

More chilling cases of detainee neglect, abuse and eventual death:

In 2007, Western Australia’s Human Rights Commission found that G4S drivers had ignored the cries of detainees locked in a scorching van, leaving them so dehydrated that one drank his own urine. The company was ordered to pay $500,000 for inhumane treatment, but three of the five victims already had been deported. Immigration officials, relying on company misinformation, had dismissed their complaints without investigation, the commission found.

There was a public outcry when an Aboriginal man died in another G4S van in similar circumstances the next year. A coroner ruled in 2009 that G4S, the drivers and the government shared the blame. The company was later awarded a $70 million, five-year prisoner transport contract in another state, Victoria, without competition.

Women are forced to give birth in the detention camps, behind barbed wire. Their babies forced to grow in such suffocating environment. Traumatized and battered, some of these children will severely self harm. From a report by The Age on one of the incidents that involved a G4S operated camp:

Fifty asylum seekers at the Woomera detention centre had sewn their lips together as part of an ongoing hunger strike, a detainee said today.

About 190 asylum seekers including 15 children, aged between six and 12, and a pregnant woman, were refusing to eat at the centre in South Australia’s north, detainee Ramzi Rihei said.[…] Mr Rihei said children had chosen to take part in the hunger strike, which entered its fourth day today, against the wishes of their parents.

“The parents, they obligate the children to eat,” Mr Rihei told AAP by telephone today. “But the problem is (the) children, they don’t want to eat.

“There’s a woman pregnant. We tried to ask her to eat and her husband said to her and some officers (said): ‘Please eat’. But she didn’t.

“She didn’t want to eat. She wants to kill herself.”[…] 37-year-old woman was among those moved from the hospital. He said the woman had tried to suicide in the belief it would give her son a better chance of staying in Australia.

And from a report by the Australian Human Rights Commission:

Child 3 – 15-years-old, detained June 2001, transferred to Adelaide 27 January 2002

Case management plan (December 2001): ‘[Child] is a very quiet young man and is always polite and well mannered. He tends to follow the other UAMs in which ever direction they take. [He] has been involved in one minor disturbance.’

On 23 January FAYS noted that the child reported that ‘he had sewn his own lips and is on a hunger strike that is in its 8th day’; ‘that when upset he removes himself to a corner and cries and has no one to talk to about his situation’; and that he had ‘no adult support within the centre and no information about his own family’s whereabouts and well being.’

In the US, G4S is also in charge of a very profitable contract:

In the US, G4S Wackenhut has a contract to provide ‘guard and transportation’ services on behalf of the Customs and Border Protection Agency. The contract covers the entire length of the south-west US–Mexican border and involves the provision of over 100 secure buses and other vehicles, their crews and over 575 G4S armed security personnel.

To put it in layman terms: G4S deports all undocumented immigrants forced to leave through the Mexican border.

In the US, there seems to be a growing awareness of G4S role in the criminalization of immigrants, though. A group of activists recently organized a protest:

On Wednesday, June 29th, a group of autonomously organized Tucson community members entered the offices of international private security firm G4S. Organized under the banner Direct Action for Freedom of Movement, the action was meant to demonstrate our opposition to the company’s profiteering off of criminalization of immigrant communities and the expansion of the prison-industrial complex, as well as its’ role in the proliferation of policies such as Arizona’s SB1070 through its’ membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The action was also taken in solidarity with six individuals who locked down at the Border Patrol headquarters in Tucson last summer who were in court at the time of yesterday’s action.

Unfurling banners reading “Prison Profiteers Destroy Communities”, “Take Direct Action to End Border Militarization”, and “Direct Action for Freedom of Movement”, the group attempted to deliver a letter to company representatives before asking for ten seconds of silence to remember those who have been separated from families, died in desert or been locked in cages as a result of militarization and criminalization. After G4S employees refused the accept the letter or honor the ten seconds of silence, the protesters commenced ten minutes of noise, with chants including “No Borders, No Nations, Stop Deportations”.

In the UK, at Heathrow Airport, G4S security guards have been accused of causing the death of an Angolan deportee that was so violently restrained that he died in what other passengers described as “terrible pain”. “A second witness has also come forward to tell the Guardian he heard Mubenga say repeatedly: “They’re going to kill me.” He estimated that the three security guards were on top of Mubenga for 45 minutes”.

But that’s not the only incident involving serious allegations of abuse in the UK. Paul Lewis and Matthew Taylor write for The Guardian in February this year:

The inaugural flight to Afghanistan should have been a showcase for a multinational company vying for the lucrative contract to deport foreign nationals on behalf of the British government.

The plane heading to Kabul on 26 January 2004 had been chartered by a company that would go on to become part of the world’s largest private security firm – G4S. Its cargo included refused asylum seekers in handcuffs. A number had their legs bound with tape and had been placed in the first-class cabin.[…]

Shocking details about that flight and dozens more are contained in previously unseen evidence to parliament obtained by the Guardian. The documents reveal how G4S employees spent several years raising concerns about the potentially lethal methods being used on refused asylum seekers.

The most disturbing technique involved bending deportees over in their seats and placing their head between their legs. The procedure became known within the company as “carpet karaoke” because it would force detainees, struggling for breath, to shout downwards toward the floor.[…]

However, they [the whistleblowers] now accuse G4S managers of presiding over a “macho” corporate culture that ostracized staff who showed compassion towards detainees or questioned the safety of their treatment.

One of the whistleblowers, the company’s serving charter operations manager, concedes that his detailed dossier to parliament is likely to result in his dismissal. The dossier records how he repeatedly wrote to his seniors expressing concerns, including one letter in which he stated that some G4S employees were playing “Russian roulette with detainees’ lives”.

Macho culture, playing Russian roulette with detainees’ lives”, rampant abuse, “carpet karaoke”. Where have we heard similar rhetoric before? Because none of these allegations sound totally novel, right? Oh yes. In case you weren’t aware, the “illegal alien” profit machine is in the hands of the same corporation that used to run the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. That’s right, the corporate tentacles of G4S are in charge of managing a whole variety of “non humans” to be subjected to unspeakable acts of violence.

Evidently, G4S track record of detainee safety in Australia was so poor that the government was forced to cancel the contracts. Instead, new ones were awarded to Serco, whose care of immigrants seems to follow the same sickening pattern:

At the detention center Serco runs in Villawood, immigrants spoke of long, open-ended detentions making them crazy. Alwy Fadhel, 33, an Indonesian Christian who said he needed asylum from Islamic persecution, had long black hair coming out in clumps after being held for more than three years, in and out of solitary confinement.

“We talk to ourselves,” Mr. Fadhel said. “We talk to the mirror; we talk to the wall.”

Naomi Leong, a shy 9-year-old, was born in the detention camp. For more than three years, at a cost of about $380,000, she and her mother were held behind its barbed wire. Psychiatrists said Naomi was growing up mute, banging her head against the walls while her mother, Virginia Leong, a Malaysian citizen accused of trying to use a false passport, sank into depression.

The Guardian has called Serco “probably the biggest company you’ve never heard of”. It is reassuring to know that Serco’s CEO,  Christopher Rajendran Hyman, claims to be driven by God. Curious, considering that in the facilities run by his company, self-harm by detainees rose twelvefold over the past year alone.

Following their CEO’s inspiration, perhaps, Serco has trained their security guards to follow the dictates of some yet to be known “compassionate god”? From a statement released on September 13 by The Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network:

An Afghan Hazara has been on the roof of South 1 compound for two days and has been on a hunger strike for a number of days before that.

Before getting onto the roof and as a form of protest, he drank a bottle of shampoo to make himself ill.

Since he got onto the roof, SERCO guards have been directed not to provide or offer him food or water on medical advice that he should be able to survive for a couple days on the roof without food or water.

As a result of this directive, the guard was in tears and highly concerned as to the man’s welfare. The man is lying in the Darwin sun without any shelter and was moving very little. He remains on the roof.

All of this is done in the name of safety. Safety for the citizens of the Nation States that allow these atrocities; safety for national borders; safety for the politicians’ careers who appeal to an increasingly populist platform to gather support from a population who, in the absence of responses about their troubles have turned to immigrants as an easy scapegoat. Meanwhile, mainstream media continues pushing the “immigrant menace” and uncritically disseminating the figure of the immigrant as a criminal, a non person, an illegal. This dissemination, in turn, allows for the abuses to continue unchecked, with a population that has become desensitized to the injustices perpetrated over the bodies of “non people”, the illegals. And when people do anything in their power to avoid spending time in such environments, when it is clear that their very survival might depend on a well told untruth, they are also going to be penalized for doing so. Because the system has deemed that even the mere attempt at avoiding such fate is a punishable offense by itself. “Illegal bodies” deserve the abuse, we are told.

It is often said that the world changed on 9/11. Ever since we have seen a seemingly unstoppable growth in xenophobia, racism and anti immigrant rhetoric. I often wondered why the Western world seemed to have shifted almost at once. Why ostensibly disparate nations like the US, The Netherlands, France or Australia (just to name a few), all seemed to have gotten on board with the anti immigrant sentiment at once. Why, within a short period of time, media seemed inundated with these stories of threats, fear and unrestrained menace. However, the same media that quickly exposes the threats of lawless, uncontrolled immigration rarely addresses the profiteers behind these trends. Every detainee is a point in the profit margins of these corporations. Every battered immigrant body forced to live in these conditions represents an extra income for these multi-national businesses. Nothing is gratuitous, as Mr. Buckles so poignantly said, “There’s nothing like a political crisis to stimulate a bit of change”. Especially if said crisis can create monstrous profits off the backs of undocumented migrants who sometimes lose their lives under the care of these corporations.


  1. Mike Joffe wrote:

    this is absolutely horrifying to read. I am constantly shocked at just how little of the world I am actually aware of and how much privilege I really have. Honestly, thank articles like this that can wake me up and make me angry and shame me into learning more.

    Friday, October 7, 2011 at 11:06 am | Permalink
  2. Hayley B wrote:

    this reads like a horror film; i am absolutely incensed and disturbed.

    you do SUCH important work. such important work.

    Friday, October 7, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Permalink
  3. Eli wrote:

    The thing that truly terrifies me is that this shit is completely brazen and almost totally invisible. I do activist work in migrant communities in Italy, where the government contracts out detention/deportation to G4S and similar corporations, and up until recently was paying the Gheddafi regime to detain asylum seekers in Libya to prevent them from crossing into Italy. This is some next-level horrific shit–refugees driven into the desert and left to die, others detained indefinitely in a corrupt prison system, raped and abused by guards–all of which was sanctioned and paid for by the Italian government. Hell, in 2003 they sent a supply shipment to Libya containing 1,000 bodybags. There is no confusion about what is going on, and there is no attempt to conceal or justify how brutal, dehumanizing, and FUCKING ILLEGAL these tactics are. There is almost no media coverage and very little public outcry.

    For those interested, there’s a documentary online called “Like a Man on Earth” about Ethiopian migrants who were detained in Libya for years, which features a stunningly smug and buck-passing interview with a representative of Frontex, a corporation which does “border security” for the EU with operations departure countries.

    Friday, October 7, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Permalink
  4. Servalbear wrote:

    This information is so important to share. Thank you for your research and thorough article.

    Saturday, October 8, 2011 at 8:47 am | Permalink
  5. Megpie71 wrote:

    One of the dirty little secrets Australia doesn’t want to mention: we’ve always been racist. We may have repealed the White Australia Policy back in 1973, and passed federal anti-discrimination laws back in 1975, but we’ve been working hard ever since to make it clear to anyone who isn’t white, anglo-celtic, protestant, and preferably English-speaking that they are NOT WELCOME. Our latest government initiative: “offshore processing”. Or in other words, we’re out-sourcing the detention camps to other countries. The government wanted to send them to Malaysia, but got told by the High Court that this is unconstitutional. The opposition favours Nauru.

    I’m a second generation Australian, a grandchild of three immigrant grandparents. My grandparents arrived in Australia on boats, fleeing a country which wasn’t economically viable for them. Of course, the big difference between my grandparents and the average asylum seeker these days is that they were white English. I’m disgusted with the way my country treats people attempting to come here looking for the same sorts of things my grandparents were looking for, by and large – a place to live, a job to work, a wage which isn’t about starvation. What made these things so acceptable when my grandparents were looking for them, and so unacceptable now?

    Sunday, October 9, 2011 at 12:04 am | Permalink
  6. k wrote:

    Thank you Flavia. I’m a legal immigrant in Europe as well, and the type of horror that lies in wait for those who don’t have the steady job, the university acceptance letter, the fat bank account, the right type of passport… it’s revolting.

    Monday, October 10, 2011 at 7:34 am | Permalink
  7. Dena Hankins wrote:

    Oh shit.

    Just when I’m comfortable with the idea of using non-violent resistance in all situations.

    Racist oppression at its most blatant, right? I feel the urge to see the guards and staff as self-selecting for execution. Being willing to perpetrate violence at these levels – is this something that grows in a person, or does applying for the job reveal the flaw in their character?

    Your point, as I see it, is less about holding individuals accountable for their actions and more about seeing how we are all complicit. Unless we talk and write and act against immigrant-harming laws, we are allowing these actions to take place.

    I agree. I may never take the law into my own hands and deal my version of justice to a violent oppressor. I _am_ an oppressor to the extent that this violence is being done for me, for my safety, and in my name. Your post has inspired me to shove back, though. I will try to find effective places to leverage what power I have, and I hope it’s possible to shift the course of history.

    Monday, October 10, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Permalink
  8. @Dena, precisely, what I want to highlight is that this is systemic. Sure those guards deserve the full extent of the law, but this goes much further. This is about a system we have allowed to be built and executed on our behalf. And individually, we won’t be able to do much to change it, but unless we are actively aware of it, letting our voices against it be heard, nothing will ever change either.

    Monday, October 10, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Permalink
  9. whimseywisp wrote:

    I read that NYT article a couple weeks ago and was similarly sickened, shocked, and horrified. I posted it on facebook and I don’t think a single person read it or commented on it. I don’t understand how no one cares about this issue. I want to raise more awareness but I feel so helpless in the face of so much racism and apathy. Anyway, thank you for this.

    Monday, October 10, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Permalink
  10. Ms. Elise wrote:

    I can’t say thank you for this post, because I’m still completely flabbergasted and horrified by the actions of the corporations and people in it. But I will say this: you have just reminded me why I am going to law school. I’ve been on the edge of quitting ever since I began a year ago, but each time I am reminded of the huge amounts of privilege I have, and of how very corrupt and evil our world can be, I gain a new resolve to continue.

    So thank you for that. Thank you for reminding me of the passion – even the rage – that fueled my decision to become a lawyer.

    Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 1:30 am | Permalink
  11. Mary Tracy wrote:

    Dear Flavia

    I am a fellow feminist writer. I want you to know that I greatly appreciate your work.

    I also want to tell you this. First, and I’m sure you know this already, the reason why anti immigration has spread like wildfire after 9/11 is, simply, to create an industry out of nowhere. Namely the “homeland security” industry, which grew out of all proportion after the 9/11. It’s important to scare a population stiff in order to spend countless millions of taxpayers’ money defending them from potential “terrorists”.

    What I would like for you to consider is this. That the atrocities committed against immigrants in the name of safety does not make the lives of citizens safer, quite the opposite. My partner was scared stiff of going through customs on our trip to the Netherlands, even though he’s white, blue eyed, blond and British. That is a small example. Xenophobia and racism make everyone’s lives more unsafe. “Illegal” people have it much worse, of course. But once a nation starts justifying violence against any human group, they quickly move towards justifying violence towards other groups.
    And since, as you say, the bodies of asylum seekers are “opportunity for corporate growth”, and since corporate growth must take priority, there will always find some group that will have to be hated and imprisoned.

    So G4S is not securing anybody’s world. It’s making it more dangerous.

    Much respect


    Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Permalink
  12. Evan wrote:

    Flavia: I can’t get this piece out of my head. It was the second to last straw on top of the massive pile of shit I’ve read, learned, and witnessed lately, a lot of the shit that makes up your pastry. The one that broke the camel’s back (how many metaphors can I mix?) was your post after this, not so much the SlutWalk part though that was important, but the part where you said that no one commented or took notice of this post. I won’t stand for it. Like Ms. Elise, I too am reminded of why I went to law school. Not even. Yes, I went to law school wanting to help people, but I was thinking helping the elderly write wills, helping women get divorced without getting screwed. But in the last few months it has been made so clear to me, especially with this piece, that there is so much more that needs to be done.

    You are amazing. Never stop telling us these things, or shouting when we don’t seem to listen.

    Thursday, October 13, 2011 at 1:27 am | Permalink
  13. Eva wrote:

    Flavia, I just wanted you to know that I read this, and that I care. I don’t know what to do with it, but I haven’t stopped thinking about it.

    Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Permalink
  14. Denise wrote:

    To me, the most chilling statement in the NYT article was from this man:

    “We have lost control,” said Richard Harding, who served for a decade as Western Australia’s chief prison inspector. He is no enemy of privatization, and his praise for a Serco-run prison is posted on the company’s Web site. But he said Curtin today was emblematic of “a flawed arrangement that’s going to go wrong no matter who’s running it.”

    “These big global companies, in relation to specific activities, are more powerful than the governments they’re dealing with,” he added.

    Thanks for bringing attention to this.

    Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Permalink
  15. nktw wrote:

    Been meaning to post this for a bit. I didn’t see this, as I’m not Australian, but I’ve heard about it and played the related simulation. SBS did a three day ‘reality event’ meant to show 6 Australians (and I imagine all Aussies) what it’s like to try to leave your country to come to another. The trailer is here:

    The simulation, which puts you in the role of an asylum seeker, and could be potentially upsetting to some, is here:

    Monday, October 17, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Permalink
  16. Carolyn wrote:

    Hi Flavia,

    Thank you for having the clarity of purpose to write this. It’s absolutely horrifying. I’m just crying and seething at the moment, but I hope to turn that into something more productive. But right now I’m so fucking angry I don’t know where to start.

    Thursday, November 3, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Permalink