“The [United Kingdom] is the only country in Europe that detains people indefinitely under immigration rules. At any one time between 2500 and 3000 people were detained indefinitely. The longest a person has been detained in the [U.K.] is 9 years.”
These facts filled the minds of the students and staff who spent two hours trekking throughout Geneseo on a Friday afternoon. The Walk in Solidarity with Refugees, Detainees and Asylum Seekers on Friday Oct. 19 provided the college community with both a framework to understand the system and a forum on how to fix it. The organizers shared a list of stated facts about indefinite detention in the UK to help attendees understand the situation.
Associate professor of English and event organizer Lytton Smith emphasized the importance of this walk in Geneseo.
“We’re a rural campus with a high percentage of New York state residents which is a very socially conscious in its aim, but I think it’s really important to have the experiences and direct connections with what is outside New York state,” Smith said. “We don’t always get to walk with one another and talk and engage in a space that isn’t a structured space like a classroom. It does matter that it’s a walk in solidarity with refugees and migrant workers . . . but I think it’s good to go through a process of walking; walking feels different from protesting, from discussing or conversing.”
The event provided a capstone to Geneseo’s annual Cultural Harmony Week, which focused on the issues that refugees face worldwide. The college invited organizers David Herd and Anna Pincus to share stories from refugees. One of these stories came from author Ali Smith’s visit to one detainee in their detention cell.
The event began at the Village Park outside Doty Hall, where the walkers considered why focusing on indefinite detention broke legal and moral standards. From there, the group looped through the Spencer J. Roemer Arboretum, extended to the Temple Hill Cemetery and North Street and then returned to the Village Park.
Throughout, people mingled with each other and talked about the different ways that the United Kingdom’s indefinite detention resembled the United States’ own moral failings.
Communication major junior Tiffany Alulema emphasized how relevant the mistreatment of migrants is to the area surrounding Geneseo.
“It affects people in our community, especially right now in Western New York,” Alulema said. “It affects a lot of dairy workers who provide a lot for us and should be treated with respect. We should be knowledgeable of the issues that they face and want to help them.”
Although she felt the event provided a valuable moment of solidarity with migrants across the globe, she had hoped Geneseo’s support would be stronger.
“I wish there were more people here that came and supported in the event,” Alulema said. “I think it’s awesome that people do care about these issues though.”
English major freshman student Emma Mandella who attended a poetry reading of Herd’s on Oct. 17, fixated on how the walk fit with how Herd spoke of space.
“There’s this concept that people enter this arbitrary space, like a detention center, where people lose their rights and are treated differently,” Mandella said. “Part of the idea of the walk is that we’re creating a sort of space where we have solidarity with refugees. I think that’s pretty interesting to think about.”
Smith believes that the walk represented an opportunity for students to speak out about issues they find important, whether centered around indefinite detention or something else.
“In a university or college, the power belongs with the students,” Smith said. “If you want something and you ask for it and gather and get together, the college kind of has to listen.”
Overall, Mandella also believes that thinking about indefinite detention in the U.K. allows students to consider how the U.S. mistreats migrants.
“I think it’s pretty relevant for Geneseo,” Mandella said. “[America has] people that get deported randomly and the separation of families at the border without any clear discernible cause for that. I think the arbitrariness of both indefinite detention in the U.K. where you can randomly be detained at any time and how we deal with refugees and immigrants here is pretty similar.”