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Internment is the imprisonment of people, commonly in large groups, without charges or intent to file charges, and thus no trial. The term is especially used for the confinement "of enemy citizens in wartime or of terrorism suspects". Thus, while it can simply mean imprisonment, it tends to refer to preventive confinement, rather than confinement after having been convicted of some crime. Use of these terms is subject to debate and political sensitivities.
Interned persons may be held in prisons or in facilities known as internment camps. In certain contexts, these may also be known either officially or pejoratively, as concentration camps.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines the term concentration camp as: "A camp where persons are confined, usually without hearings and typically under harsh conditions, often as a result of their membership in a group the government has identified as dangerous or undesirable."
Although the first example of civilian internment may date as far back as the 1830s, the English term concentration camp was first used in order to refer to the reconcentrados (reconcentration camps) set up by the Spanish military in Cuba during the Ten Years' War (1868–78). The term saw wider use around the Second Boer War (1899–1902), when the British operated such camps in South Africa for interning Boers.
During the 20th century, the arbitrary internment of civilians by the state reached its most extreme form with the establishment of the Nazi concentration camps (1933–45). The Nazi concentration camp system was extensive, with as many as 15,000 camps and at least 715,000 simultaneous internees. The total number of casualties in these camps is difficult to determine, but the conscious policy of extermination through labor in at least some of the camps ensured that the inmates would die of starvation, untreated disease and summary executions. Moreover, Nazi Germany established six extermination camps, specifically designed to kill millions, primarily by gassing.
As a result, the term "concentration camp" today is sometimes conflated with the concept of "extermination camp" and historians debate whether the term "concentration camp" or "internment camp" should be used to describe other examples of civilian internment.
The essence of internment lies in incarceration without charge or trial.
A formal arrest usually comes with a charge, but many regimes employed internment (that is, detention without intent to file charges)