Australia’s dirty secret – the refugee crisis
The Border Force Act (2015-17) in Australia prevents workers in refugee/asylum-seeker camps from reporting facts on conditions, etc. It is, in fact, a criminal offence. I was a teacher in a detention centre for asylum seekers in 2013 and I will not be silenced.
There are three types of refugees in Australia — those who arrive through the ’proper channels,’ those who arrive by plane without visas and finally those who come by boat. The government continuously supports the policy of turning the boats away and indeed, since they have been doing this, the number of asylum seekers by boat has diminished. But what of those who have already arrived? They have been incarcerated in detention camps. Men, women and children. Australia believes in off shore processing for these people. This means that the would-be immigrants are sent to Nauru or Manus Island while they wait for their visas to come through or to at least hear of their refugee status. The camps are not refugee camps as one might expect but are centres of incarceration, with families being split up and even children and mothers being detained.
As far back as 2004, when the National Enquiry into Children in Immigration Detention was written, the deprivation of inmates was deemed as unacceptable. What do we really know in Australia with this gag order in place? We know that the children on Nauru have been subject to the same mental traumas as the adults and have less resources, personal or otherwise to maintain sanity and avoid post traumatic stress disorder. The mandatory imprisonment of refugee children contravenes the Convention on the Rights of a Child to which Australia is a signatory.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, Australia has formally withdrawn from some centres leaving asylum seekers under the control of other governments without medical resources, without basic supplies, decent access to water, still incarcerated and in danger of being seriously assaulted by the guards. Their being sent to other countries means that Australia set up the detention centres and then withdrew. Withdrew guards, medical supplies and facilities, leaving the asylum seekers at the mercy of the other governments who now have to take responsibility for them.
Some of the men have been waiting for 6 years to hear about their claims, and if it wasn’t for Twitter, we just wouldn’t have the feed for information. Suicides are a regular occurrence as is self-harm, hunger-striking and violence. Six years in incarceration without being a criminal. Those whose only crime is to get on a boat and with their lives in the hands of unscrupulous traffickers, try to get to a safe place where they can start a new and productive life. There is a thought in Australia that if we let them in, they would take our jobs, but many are highly skilled and trained and would slip into society easily. Well, before the trauma they have been subjected to. We have housing and empty towns that could be repopulated while processing takes place and yet – on Manus, the locals don’t want them in and they are subject to tribal attacks as well as the poor conditions in which they live.
A Kurdish journalist, Behrouz Boochani, escaped from Iran and fled until he managed to secure ocean passage for himself to Australia. It is now his 6th year on Manus Island and via twitter @BehrouzBoochani documents the happenings and circumstances. He texted his novel “No Friend But the Mountains” by phone which chronicles his escape, journey and finally conditions in Manus Island. It is a heartbreaking account. It is also, ironically, shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s 2018 Literary Award and was the best-selling book at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival 2018. Without asylum seekers like Behrouz Tweeting and Facebooking their daily horrors, we just wouldn’t know what is going on.
How long will these refugees remain captive? When will all the children be released into the community? When will families not be separated? When will the judgements of the processing of claims be announced or are these people destined to an indefinite incarceration in disgusting conditions?
Twitter: Torture means six years of having nothing to do but staring at a wall, thinking about your destiny, listening to a killing silence and watching how slowly life disappears in front of your eyes. Torture means being condemned to an indefinite wait. The reality of Manus & Nauru.
Twitter: When we talk about torture, we mean enduring the pain of imprisonment without committing a crime. A punishment without trial, an indefinite punishment. Means condemned to suffer like Sisyphus. I wish I was taken to the court first.
@BehrouzBoochani January 9th 2019
If they are imprisoned as criminals, then where are the court hearings? When I worked at the detention centre, it was an unspoken rule of thumb that if an asylum seeker came by boat, they would not be allowed to stay on Australian soil (or be transferred to New Zealand despite the offer of NZ government), regardless of their claim. What is Australia doing? Breaking the spirits and bodies of men, women and children who are for the most part, genuine refugees and need to start over, escape from war, persecution and danger.
We cannot overestimate the mental illness Australia has caused in its detainees. It offers next to no intervention for mental health issues and once again, over the Christmas period, three men had to be hospitalised from suicide attempts and self-harm. Even children are contemplating suicide and are in deep despair.
My ultimate questions are these: US immigration policy – will it too incarcerate refugees instead of attending to their needs? Will more children die on the borders? Donald Trump has hailed Australia as having a great immigration policy. I suggest that we all open our eyes to the truth of offshore processing and what it means for the refugees/asylum seekers and put pressure on our respective governments for change.