Who is entitled to feel in the age of populism? Women’s resistance to migrant detention in Britain


Ali Bilgic



Loughborough University

Ali is Reader in International Relations and Security. He specialises on security studies, migration, Middle East politics, foreign policy analysis from critical perspectives such as gender and postcolonial studies.


My research is on how immigration policies in Britain impact migrants psychologically and emotionally, and what kind of policies can be formulated to ensure their perspective on British society remain positive.

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Key Findings

    How to apply research

    • Alternative models to detention include community-based monitoring systems and technology-based monitoring systems, which use the tax payers money more efficiently. NGOs have outlined many good alternatives that need to be taken seriously.
    • Begin phasing out detention, and during this phase they need to make sure that the detainees are not subjected to gendered and racial abuse. They can be protected by first training the people working at detention centres need to be trained.
    • If detention should remain, then it needs to be nationalised. Currently detention centres are being ran by private contractors. If it is nationalised, then government control will be increased and economic incentives to detain people are removed.
    • Instead of detention being a regular standard policy, it needs to instead be the last resort. Other policies should be used first. Use a phasing approach.
    • More effort must be made to maintain a good relationship between the immigrant and society (most easily achieved by prioritising alternative models). But as an example, during detention no time limits are provided to detainees, and people released from detention receive no support (other than from charities) or any explanation to why they were detained. This causes a big emotional toll. Detention without time limits, explanations, or support leave people in a vacuum. They do not understand what happened and are left wondering where the justice is – this makes detention a very problematic policy.

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    About this research

      This Journal Article was part of a collaborative effort

      This research was independently conducted and did not receive funding from outside of the university.

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      About this research

        This research was independently conducted and did not receive funding from outside of the university.

        This paper was co-authored

        Recommended for

        What findings means

        This research looks at the role of emotions in the age of populist politics, and we asked the questions: Whose emotions are prioritised and whose emotions are marginalised and silenced? This is important as whose emotions are considered to matter in politics is closely related to whose security matters.

        This research takes the case of detention Britain. While detention has become a common practice in the past twenty years, there are no tangible benefits and it is very expensive. Additionally, detention has faced a lot of criticism and most of the detainees are actually released back into society – so it appears there is no reason. Within this context, this research asks therefore this research questions why the British government are continuing this practice? There is no rational reason.

        Therefore this research argues that detention is a performance. The government use it as a tool to help ease the fears and anxieties of anti-immigrant and populist feelings – meaning the government are prioritising the emotions and security of anti-immigration groups over detainees, and at the expense of the detainees security.

        This paper shows the human cost of this inefficient policy. It found that by marginalising the detainees emotions and making them endure the detention experience, any positive perception of Britain is completely shattered.

        In one interview a former detainee said that they felt British before detention, and when asked if they felt British following release from detention, their answer was ‘no, I don’t feel British anymore’. So just by detaining this person, their connection and relationship to British society was cut, making integration harder, and undermining current practice. Detention is therefore a counterproductive policy.


        This research was based from four in-depth interviews with immigrants who were formally detained. It used a methodology from psychology called the listening guide.

        The interviews were based on the detainees life before detention, life during detention, and life following detention so that changes could be observed as an outcome of detention.

        Rather than providing a big picture, this research gives an in-depth perspective on immigrants lives before, during and after detention in Britain.


        Detention as a SpectacleDetention as a spectacle is a performance of the State to convince its population that it’s tough on immigration, although there is no significant benefits of this policy and in spite of its financial cost.

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        Want to read the full paper? It is available open access

        Ali Bilgic, Athina Gkouti, Who is entitled to feel in the age of populism? Women’s resistance to migrant detention in Britain, International Affairs, Volume 97, Issue 2, March 2021, pp 483–502,