The use of detention as a defence against intolerable social ambivalence towards asylum-seekers

The use of detention as a defence against intolerable social ambivalence towards asylum-seekers

A talk by David Lawlor & Mannie Sher.

A talk by David Lawlor & Mannie Sher

The movements of peoples across the world are causing grave concern for politicians, government agencies, humanitarian organisations and individual citizens. The immigrants fleeing poverty, war and tyrannical regimes are seen every day on our televisions. We see immigrants crossing the Mediterranean in broken-down boats, in South East Asia we see Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia turning back boatloads of refugees fleeing Burma, leaving 6,000 people stranded at sea. At Calais we see thousands of people living in destitute conditions whilst risking their lives to stow away in lorries. In London a man fell to his death having stowed away in an aircraft from South Africa. These scenes of human desperation are now every day occurrences. At the same time more overt political conflict is emerging from the European countries that take in the immigrants. Italy and Greece want a sharing out of the migrants known as ‘compulsory burden sharing’ but other European countries are not willing to participate.

This talk focuses on an aspect of the immigration crisis namely the asylum seeking and detention centres of the UK. The Tavistock of Institute Human Relations was commissioned to review the mental health care of detainees in Immigration Removal Centres. The UK Home Office wanted help with caring for the mentally ill in IRCs. This talk makes use of the concepts of system psychodynamics, open systems and boundary management, and social systems as a defence against anxiety. We discuss the organisational culture of Immigration Removal Centres where people are detained. Our talk focuses on how asylum seekers are treated in removal centres, particularly in relation to their mental health needs. We suggest that there is confusion in the conscious and unconscious understanding of the primary task. We propose that there is a double task conflict that manifests itself in the organisation of the centres. At the same time we examine the casework system that is engaged in processing asylum applications.

Recording of the talk

Dr David Lawlor is the Director of the Centre for Social Work Supervision and Consultancy. He is a Professional Partner at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations He was formerly a Consultant Social Worker at the Tavistock & Portman NHS Trust where he was the Head of the Social Work Discipline and member of the Senior Management Team. David trained in organisational consultancy and psychoanalytic psychotherapy at the Tavistock Clinic. He works as an organisational consultant and coach. He helps organisations learn and develop through training and consultancy interventions. He works with the technical and emotional challenges involved in implementing change.

Mannie Sher, PhD, TQAP, FBA is Principal Researcher and Consultant and Director of the Group Relations Programme at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, London. From this role he manages assignments and consults to top teams on their leadership roles. Mannie’s research and consultancy work focuses on the impact of thought on the dialectic relationship between social constructivism, the unconscious and liberal democracy. Relying on a total systems approach of open systems thinking, socio-technical systems theory and systems psychodynamics, integrated with action learning, group relations and traditional organisational and culture change methods, Mannie has delivered successful change programmes to many private and public sector organisations in the UK and internationally.

‘The use of detention as a defence against intolerable social ambivalence towards asylum-seekers’ was presented by David Lawlor & Mannie Sher as part of the Tavistock Institute’s Food For Thought series.

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