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Another killing in British detention: who was Alois Dvorzac?

The UK immigration apparatus killed an 84-year-old Canadian citizen. The human story behind the oldest victim of Britain's dangerous obsession with punishing migrants.

He died in handcuffs while detained at a UK privately-run and publicly-funded detention centre – an 84-year-old Canadian with Alzheimer’s. But who was the man behind the tragedy? Why does a simple question like this rarely get answered? Why do we accept that immigrants are only talked about as numbers — how many are detained, how many are deported, how many ‘net migrants’ exist this quarter and the next, how much they contribute or not to the economy, how much they (or we) cost to the UK welfare system?

Here you have an old engineer originally from Slovenia, who fought the Nazi occupation in Yugoslavia and moved to Canada after the war, an elderly widower who was travelling back to Slovenia to meet relatives and, unfortunately for him, had to change plane at Gatwick, UK. He never made it to Slovenia, Alois Dvorzac died in the care of Harmondsworth immigration detention centre, and was not even an immigrant to the UK.

This excellent report by Paraic O’Brien for Channel 4 News (18 March 2014) uncovers the story of Alois Dvorzac. After watching the video, I realised how unusual it is for us to see and hear about the life of someone who died in an immigration detention centre. We have got used to a conversation dominated by dehumanising accounts coming from politicians, newspapers, tabloids, experts, and academics alike.

This is a country where an immigration minister may resign for employing a maid with an expired visa. One would hope to see someone resigning for having created an immigration system that kills migrants, and sometimes even people that just happen to transit through one of its airports.


This piece first appeared on Nando Sigona's blog.


About the author

Nando Sigona is Senior Lecturer at the University of Birmingham and Deputy Director of the Institute for Research into Superdiversity. He is also Research Associate at the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) and the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford. His research interests include: irregular and child migration, governance and governmentality of forced migration in Europe, Roma politics and anti-Gypsyism, statelessness, and the intersection between migration, citizenship and belonging. He is one of the founding editors of Migration Studies, an international journal by Oxford University, co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies (OUP, 2014) and co-author of Sans Papiers: The Social and Economic Lives of Undocumented Migrants (Pluto Press, 2014). He maintains a personal blog and is active on Twitter @nandosigona


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